Philippines signs human rights law on forced disappearances
22 December 2012
The President of the Philippines Benigno Aquino has signed a new human rights law on the abduction of individuals by state officials.
It is the first major human rights legislation passed by Mr Aquino, who came to power three years ago promising to address such crimes.
Officials face a life sentence if convicted of the offence.
The US-based Human Rights Watch said the law, passed by Congress two months ago, was the first of its kind in Asia.
The group challenged Mr Aquino to move quickly to enforce the new legislation, which it said would address the problem of impunity in the Philippines.
The BBC’s Jonah Fisher says the legislation makes for the first time a distinction between simple kidnapping and the abduction of people by government security forces.
The Philippine human rights group Karapatan has documented more than 1,000 enforced disappearances since the end of the dictatorship of Fernando Marcos in 1986.
It says 12 cases have been reported during the term of President Aquino – with more than 200 under his predecessor, Gloria Arroyo.
The new law defines an enforced disappearance as the abduction or “any other form of deprivation of liberty” of a person by state officials or their agents who subsequently conceal the person’s fate or whereabouts.
Human rights groups have reported that such people have been kept in a network of “safe houses” where they are tortured and sometimes killed.
The law also prohibits a practice by security forces of listing people they perceive to be “enemies of the state” to make them “legitimate targets as combatants,” including those not formally charged with a crime.
Those listed are open to assassinations, abductions, harassment and intimidation.
The law cannot be suspended even during wartime and does not permit amnesty for those convicted. Superior officers of those found responsible are to be equally penalised.
Philippines: Milestone Law Criminalizes Forced Disappearances
First Law of its Kind in Asia
21 December 2012
President Aquino should be commended for these two important human rights laws, but too often new laws in the Philippines are followed by inaction. Aquino now needs to demonstrate leadership to overcome the obstacles to these laws and ensure they are fully enforced.
Brad Adams, Asia director (Manila) – The new law that criminalizes enforced disappearances in the Philippines is the first of its kind in Asia and a major milestone in ending this horrific human rights violation, Human Rights Watch said today. President Benigno S. Acquino III signed the law today.
The Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 closely reflects international legal standards on enforced disappearance.
Although Congress passed the law in October, Aquino did not immediately sign it despite reports of new abductions of leftist activists. Enforced disappearances are defined as the detention of a person by state officials or their agents followed by a refusal to acknowledge the detention or to reveal the person’s fate or whereabouts. People held in secret are especially vulnerable to torture and other abuses, and their families suffer from lack of information.
“President Aquino and the Congress deserve credit for acting to end the scourge of enforced disappearances in the Philippines,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “This law is a testament to the thousands of ‘disappearance’ victims since the Marcos dictatorship, whose long-suffering families are still searching for justice. The challenge now is for the government to move quickly to enforce the new law.”
The new law reflects longtime recommendations by human rights organizations to the government to address unacknowledged detentions. Anyone convicted of committing an enforced disappearance faces a maximum sentence of life in prison and may not receive an amnesty. Superior officers who order or are otherwise implicated in a disappearance face the same penalty as those who directly carried out the crime. The government cannot suspend the law even in times of war or public emergency.
A crucial provision of the law says that those accused of forced disappearances may not invoke “orders of battle” – military documents that identify alleged enemies – as justification or an exempting circumstance. Many victims of enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings in the Philippines have been listed or said to have been listed in such “orders of battle.” The law specifically allows a person who receives an illegal order to commit a disappearance to disobey it.
The law defines an enforced or involuntary disappearance as “the arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such person outside the protection of the law.” This definition is derived from international human rights standards.
The law also prohibits secret detention facilities. The government is to make a full inventory of all detention facilities in the Philippines and create a registry of every detainee, complete with all relevant details including who visited the detainee and how long the visit lasted. It also mandates and authorizes the governmental Commission on Human Rights “to conduct regular, independent, unannounced and unrestricted visits to or inspection of all places of detention and confinement.” Human rights organizations are encouraged to assist the Justice Department in proposing rules and regulations for enforcement. “Effective enforcement of this new law by the Philippine government will deter enforced disappearances and address the deep-seated problem of impunity for human rights abusers,” Adams said.
Under President Ferdinand Marcos, enforced disappearances were rampant, as the military and police routinely rounded up activists and suspected communist rebels and supporters. The practice did not end with Marcos’s ouster in 1986. Many enforced disappearances occurred during the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. Several activists have “disappeared” since Aquino took office in 2010, according to local rights groups, though there are no allegations that these were ordered by Aquino or other members of his government. Human Rights Watch detailed some cases of disappearances in its 2010 report, “No Justice Just Adds to the Pain,” and in a video released earlier in 2012 in which family members of the disappeared call on President Aquino to live up to his promises of justice.
The Philippine government should also sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and transmit it to the Senate for prompt ratification. In Asia, only Japan has ratified the convention, although Laos, India, Indonesia, and Thailand have signed it.
In addition to signing the anti-disappearance law, Aquino is expected to soon sign the landmark reproductive-health bill recently passed by Congress. The bill aims to improve the lives of many Filipino women and to reduce the country’s high maternal mortality rate.
“President Aquino should be commended for these two important human rights laws, but too often new laws in the Philippines are followed by inaction,” Adams said. “Aquino now needs to demonstrate leadership to overcome the obstacles to these laws and ensure they are fully enforced.”
New law gives some hope to kin of victims of enforced disappearance
By RONALYN V. OLEA,
Published on 23 December 2012
The new law, the first of its kind in Asia, imposes a punishment of life imprisonment on those directly involved in the crime of enforced disappearance as well as on superior officers who order or are otherwise implicated in a disappearance.
MANILA – “It’s a small relief,” Belith Batralo, whose brother Cesar has been missing, said of the enactment of a law criminalizing the practice of enforced disappearance.
Republic Act No. 10350 or the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act of 2012 was signed by President Benigno Aquino III, December 21. The law makes enforced disappearance a distinct crime, separate from kidnapping, serious illegal detention, or murder.
Cesar, a consultant of the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP), was taken by suspected state agents exactly six years before the law was passed. He is one of the more than 200 victims of enforced disappearance under the administration of President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.
“Our nightmare continues for as long as he has not yet been found,” Belith told Bulatlat.com in an interview. She lamented how they would celebrate Christmas without her older brother. With her was Cesar’s daughter Gabriela, now 11 years old.
The law defines enforced disappearance as the “arrest, detention, abduction or any other form of deprivation of liberty committed by agents of the State or by persons or groups of persons acting with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the State, followed by a refusal to acknowledge the deprivation of liberty or by concealment of the fate or whereabouts of the disappeared person, which places such person outside the protection of the law.” The definition is derived from the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
Human rights group Karapatan attributed the enactment of the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law to the “painstaking, persevering, militant and unwavering efforts for justice of the relatives of desaparecidos, human rights groups and people’s organizations.”
Belith recalled how she and other members of Desaparecidos, an organization of relatives of victims of enforced disappearance, lobbied for the passage of the bill. “Aquino then was still a senator when we first went to the Senate.”
Mrs. Edith Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas, deemed that Aquino signed the law because of local and international pressure from human rights groups and supporters.
The new law, the first of its kind in Asia, imposes a punishment of life imprisonment to those directly involved in the crime of enforced disappearance as well as on superior officers who order or are otherwise implicated in a disappearance. Perpetrators of such crime are also prohibited from receiving any form of amnesty.
The law cannot be suspended even during periods of political instability, or when there is a threat of war, state of war, or any public emergency.
A provision of the law states that those accused of enforced disappearances may not invoke “orders of battle” – military documents that identify alleged enemies – as justification or an exempting circumstance.
The law also requires public officers to give inquiring citizens full information about people under their custody. It also requires investigating officials who learn that the people they are investigating are victims of enforced disappearance to relay the information to their families, lawyers and concerned human rights groups.
The law also provides free access to the updated register of detained or confined people to those who have a legitimate interest in the data. All detention centers must have such a register.
Implementing the law
For Mrs. Burgos, the law “brings hope, somehow.” She quickly added, however: “But we cannot relax. We have to be vigilant.”
Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, challenged the Aquino government to file charges against all perpetrators of enforced disappearances from Gen. Jovito Palparan Jr. to Gen. Eduardo Año.
Palparan is charged with kidnapping and serious illegal detention for the enforced disappearance of University of the Philippines students Sherlyn Cadapan and Karen Empeño while Año is implicated in the abduction of Jonas Burgos.
Mrs. Burgos said she has been contemplating on using the law to file charges against the abductors of her son who has been missing since April 28, 2007. In June 2011, Mrs. Burgos filed charges of arbitrary detention or possibly murder against several military officers for the abduction of Jonas.
“I’m thinking of dropping the arbitrary detention and replace it with the crime of enforced disappearance,” Mrs. Burgos said. “Enforced disappearance is a continuing crime.”
Still, Mrs. Burgos could not hide her disappointment with Aquino. “It bewilders me why he [Aquino] is like that. Why would he appoint Año as Isafp chief?”
Año was sworn in by Aquino as the new chief of the Intelligence Services of the Armed Forces of the Philippines on December 3. Mrs. Burgos strongly opposed the promotion and in a recent Senate hearing, the promotion of Año has been deferred by the Commission on Appointments.
“He was the only one sitting [among all the military officials promoted],” Mrs. Burgos said, describing the scene at the Senate. “That is nothing compared to what he did to my son.”
The same goes for Mrs. Concepcion Empeño, mother of Karen. “I consider the signing into law of the Anti-enforced Disappearance bill as a gift this Christmas,” Mrs. Empeño said. “The next step is to implement the law effectively.”
Asked if she would file charges in violation of the new law, Mrs. Empeño said it is a possibility but she has yet to consult her lawyers.
In a statement, the Human Rights Watch called the new law “a major milestone in ending this horrific human rights violation [enforced disappearance].”
“Effective enforcement of this new law by the Philippine government will deter enforced disappearances and address the deep-seated problem of impunity for human rights abusers,” Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said.
The Human Rights Watch called on the Aquino administration to also sign the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance and transmit it to the Senate for prompt ratification. According to the watchdog, only Japan has so far ratified the convention in Asia.
For Karapatan’s Palabay, scrapping Oplan Bayanihan, the counterinsurgency program of the Aquino administration, will end enforced disappearances and all forms of human rights violations.
The group has documented 12 cases of enforced disappearances under the Aquino government.
“Commitment to human rights is more than just the mere enactment of laws, PR stunts and rehashed storylines; it is about promoting, protecting and working towards full realization of human rights by holding accountable the state perpetrators, by putting a stop to all violations, and by a comprehensive and genuine reform of all legislative, judicial and executive mechanisms that impede the rights of the people, especially the poor and marginalized sectors,” Palabay said. (http://bulatlat.com)