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Harp on rights record

Watchdog urges Aquino to stop HR abuses AN international group on Saturday challenged President Benigno Aquino III to use his annual State of the Nation on Monday to outline concrete steps that would render justice to the victims of human rights abuses in the country. The Human Rights Watch  wrote a letter to the President, commending him for the ‘significant’ decline of human rights abuses in the country since he took office in 2010, but at the same time, urging the administration to improve   effort by enacting important legislation on human rights. The President, who will deliver his SONA on July 22, is expected to highlight his administration’s accomplishments since his inauguration on June 30, 2010, said presidential spokesman Edwin Lacierda. While skirting discussions about the SONA, Aquino on Saturday spoke before the Ateneo University and took the occasion to exhort his fellow Ateneans to go out of their “comfort zone”  and help find solutions to the country’s problems. The Human Rights Watch, meanwhile, had outlined its “wish list” for the SONA “among them the laws on reproductive health, enforced disappearances, repatriation for human rights victims under the Marcos dictatorship, and protection for the rights of domestic workers.” “The second half of your term gives you an opportunity to take meaningful action against serious, ongoing human rights violations. We urge to use your State of the nation address to explicitly make human rights protection and prosecutions a policy priority over the next three years,” the group said. The group listed four points that the President must include in his SONA; One, ending impunity for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances by prosecuting state security forces implicated in human rights violations. The group said that despite the   decline in human rights violations since Mr. Aquino took   office, victims of killings and enforced disappearances, which numbered in the hundreds in the previous decade, have not obtained justice and few perpetrators have been prosecuted. The watchdog  challenged Aquino to  enforce military accountability in disciplining members of the military for committing rights violations, while referring appropriate cases to the civilian criminal justice system. “The challenge is for the armed forces to show that it is willing and able to prosecute both rank-and-file soldiers and officers for serious violations,” the group said. The group cited as an example retired Gen. Jovito Palparan,  who, despite being  prosecuted  in a civilian court, remains at large, and was allegedly protected from capture by military personnel.” It noted that other non-state armed groups such as the New People’s Army and Islamist militants have also committed serious abuses, including deliberate killings of civilians, but added that “abuses by one side never justify abuses committed by the other side.” In order to end impunity for extrajudicial killings and other violations, the Human Rights group urged Aquino to commit to the following: 1) order the Armed Forces of the Philippines and the Philippine National Police to respect civilian immunity and not target civilians, including civil society activists, unionists, politicians, and journalists; 2) direct the AFP and the PNP to fully assist authorities in apprehending members of the armed forces, regardless of rank who are implicated in extrajudicial killings and other serious human rights violations; 3) Suspend military personnel or other members of the security forces implicated in extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, or other human rights violations while an investigation is ongoing; 4) End the routine denial by AFP of involvement in reported cases of human rights abuses, such as extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; 5) Order the AFP’s inspector general and the provost marshal to promptly and impartially investigate human rights abuses and publicly disclose the results of these investigations; 6) direct the AFP and the PNP to fully comply with all inquiries by investigative bodies, including legislative committees and public officials; and 7) order the AFP and the PNP to work with the civilian authorities to ensure that military personnel implicated in serious abuses against civilians be tried in civilian courts. The group also urged Aquino to prosecute officials implicated in “death squad” killings in Davao City and other cities; stopping abuses in mining areas; and disbanding local militias and paramilitary forces, and rescinding Executive Order 546, which allows politicians to arm “private armies”.
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