Filing charges not enough, rights group tells Philippine gov’t

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MANILA, Philippines—The government is not doing enough to arrest alleged human rights abusers such as retired Army Major General Jovito Palparan, the Human Rights Watch said Saturday, responding to Malacañang’s comment that it had done its job by filing charges against them.

Human Rights Watch Asia Deputy Director, Elaine Pearson, expects that the Philippines will be grilled in the upcoming Universal Periodic Review this May 29, 2012 by the UN Human Rights Council.

The New York-based human rights watchdog acknowledged in a statement e-mailed to news organizations that the conviction  of human rights abusers lay with courts, but the absence of successful prosecutions “highlights broader problems that do rest with the administration.”

Elaine Pearson, deputy director for HRW’s Asia Division, observed that most cases of human rights violations failed to reach trial stage, that the police still failed to follow up and arrest suspects, and the military continued to “obstruct” investigations.

“Even in the case against retired General Palparan, where we praised the administration for bringing charges, not enough is being done to bring him to custody so that he can receive a fair trial,” she said of the fugitive retired general charged with the 2006 abduction and illegal detention of students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan.

HRW earlier lamented that President Benigno Aquino had failed to prosecute a single case of extra-judicial killing and enforced disappearance in his two years in office.

Abigail Valte, one of the President’s spokespersons, disputed this, saying the administration had initiated the filing of cases against suspects but had no jurisdiction over their conviction. In Palparan’s case, she said, charges had been filed against him, and a manhunt mounted.

“Conviction isn’t part of the Executive branch’s job,” she said.

Pearson said Aquino could do a lot more to “systematically address” the barriers to successful prosecutions.

For starters, Aquino should order the National Bureau of Investigation to investigate police and military personnel implicated in killings. He should order the police to re-double efforts to investigate abuses involving government officials, lest they  face criminal investigations themselves, she said.

The President should also order the military to cooperate with civilian authorities investigating military abuses, or face sanctions. And he should take immediate steps to ensure that the country’s witness protection program is independent, accessible, and properly funded, she added.

“As President Aquino himself pointed out, fair trials that result in the convictions of those implicated in abuses is the true test of his commitment to his promise,” Pearson said.

That’s why the government needs to move beyond simply identifying suspects and obtaining warrants to arrest the suspects, gathering evidence, and providing protection to witnesses to allow them to come forward, she added.

“Once that happens we can expect the trial to take care of itself,” she said.

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