Scrap death penalty, enact anti-EJK law instead, rights experts urge
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MANILA, Philippines -- (UPDATE - 8:17 a.m.) Experts here and abroad continued to pressure the Duterte administration on human rights, calling on the Senate to reject the death penalty bill and pass a law imposing heavy punishment on authorities who kill civilians, and blasting the police’s renewed anti-drug campaign.
The calls come less than two months before the Philippines’ human rights record is subjected to the Universal Periodic Review by the United Nations in May.
They were also issued the same day, Thursday, an impeachment complaint was filed against President Rodrigo Duterte accusing him of, among others, inciting the killings that have claimed more than 8,000 lives in the war on drugs his administration has waged since July last year.
“We are deeply concerned with the proposal to reinstate the death penalty in the Philippines,” Agnes Callamard, the United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, and Nils Melzer, special rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, said in a joint statement.
(Read the full statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=21388&LangID=E)
"If approved, the bill will set the Philippines starkly against the global trend towards abolition and would entail a violation of the country’s obligations under international law,” they said.
And in Vienna, Yury Fedotov, executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, speaking before a side event of the International Narcotics Control Board, stressed the “need for proportionality” and to discourage countries “from applying the death penalty to drug-related offenses.”
He said “proportionate national sentencing policies, practices and guidelines for drug-related offenses” was the commitment made by member-states during the UN General Assembly Special Session on Drugs in March last year.
Among the points he stressed:
- Proportionate responses and alternatives to conviction or punishment, using such measures as treatment, education, aftercare, rehabilitation and social reintegration, can help promote public health and public safety.
- They can have a decisive and positive impact on the recovery and reintegration of people with drug use disorders, who account for a considerable part of the global prison population.
- They can also help to address prison overcrowding, and potentially prevent the recruitment of vulnerable individuals in detention by criminals and terrorists.
Earlier, the government said Callamard could visit the country to look into allegations of extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs, but imposed conditions she has refused to abide with because these run afoul of her office’s mandate.
Noting that the country became the first country in Southeast Asia to ratify the Second Optional Protocol of the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which forbids executions and commits the country to abolish the death penalty, Callamard and Melzer said: “The Philippines has an obligation to stay away from this form of punishment and cannot legally reintroduce it in its jurisdiction.”
They warned that juking the Protocol “would constitute a departure from the country’s regional leadership and global position as advocate of the abolition of the death penalty in international forums.”
Not only would restoring capital punishment buck the trend worldwide, with 141 countries, or more than two-thirds of the total, abolishing the penalty legally or in practice, the special rapporteurs said limiting its application to drug-related crimes “is clearly not permitted under international law, which requires that even states retaining the death penalty may impose it only for the most serious crimes, that is, those involving intentional killing.”
“Drug related offences do not meet this threshold,” they said.
The Commission on Human Rights, on the other hand, urged Congress to enact a law imposing heavier punishment on government authorities who kill civilians.
"Until now, we don't have a law on EJKs (extrajudicial killings) … We call on Congress to enact an EJK law, one that will impose higher sanctions on state agents," a CHR statement quoted the agency’s spokesperson, Jacqueline De Guia, as saying at a conference on crime and punishment in Quezon City.
De Guia noted that the penalty on state agents who abuse their authority and kill innocents is no different from any citizen charged with murder or homicide even as she stressed that “a state agent has a responsibility to protect us and not violate our rights” thus, going against this deserves heavier sanctions.
She also existing laws -- the Anti-Enforced or Involuntary Disappearance Act 0f 2012 and the Anti-
Torture Act of 2009 -- that impose separate penalties on authorities for kidnapping and physical injuries.
At the moment, she said the CHR is investigating some 500 killings in the course of police operations.
The Philippine National Police has acknowledged more than 2,000 of the more than 8,000 deaths in the war on drugs, saying these happened because suspects chose to fight back instead of surrender, although serious doubts have been cast on many of these operations and the families of victims have begun to fight back by filing criminal charges with the help of human rights lawyers.
Despite the frictions over the drug war killings, De Guia said the CHR continues to collaborate with the Philippine National Police, although she stressed that “we also remind them: ‘naalala niyo ba no'ng unang araw na nag-oath ka? Ang sabi mo mamamatay ako para sa bayan ko, uunahin ko ang karapatan ng iba bago yung sa akin (Do you remember the day when you took the oath? You said you would die for your country, prioritize the rights of other before your own)’.”
“That is how government illustrates its state responsibility in terms of human rights,” she added.
Meanwhile, Amnesty International, which earlier claimed bounties were being paid for killing drug suspects, slammed the government for failing to implement reforms Duterte promised when he suspended the police’s anti-drug campaign over the embarrassment caused by the discovery that a gang of law enforcers had, using an anti-narcotics operation as cover, kidnapped and later murdered a Korean businessman late last year.
“There has been no indication that independent and effective investigations into reported extrajudicial executions or concrete reforms necessary to ensure an end to police killings and corruption, have since taken place,” Amnesty said.
It added that the government has also ignored warnings that the drug war killings may amount to “crimes against humanity.”
It urged the government to “grant immediate access” to the UN special rapporteurs and allow them to “carry out an independent assessment of the governments’ antidrug campaign.”