Huge challenges confronted the international human rights movement in 2003. The UN faced a crisis of legitimacy and credibility because of the US-led war on Iraq and the organization's inability to hold states to account for gross human rights violations. International human rights standards continued to be flouted in the name of the "war on terror", resulting in thousands of women and men suffering unlawful detention, unfair trial and torture - often solely because of their ethnic or religious background. Around the world, more than a billion people's lives were ruined by extreme poverty and social injustice while governments continued to spend freely on arms.
Attempts to revive peace talks with Muslim separatists in Mindanao made little progress following a military offensive, which sparked mass displacement of civilians and increased tension related to alleged Islamist "terrorist" bombings. Arbitrary arrests, torture, extrajudicial executions and "disappearances" were reported in the context of operations against suspected Islamist "terrorists", Muslim separatists and communist insurgents. Weaknesses in the criminal justice system made criminal suspects, including women and children, vulnerable to ill-treatment or torture and denial of fair trial safeguards. A moratorium on executions for convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers was lifted. Armed opposition groups were responsible for abuses, including killings and hostage-taking.BACKGROUND
Following bomb attacks by suspected Islamist "terrorists" in Mindanao in March and April, the government pledged to step up the "war on terror" through legislative "counter-terrorist" measures and military action. In July a mutiny by over 300 soldiers who occupied part of Manila's business district, allegedly as a prelude to a coup attempt, heightened concerns over wider political and economic instability. The soldiers surrendered and were charged with rebellion. Growing public unease over rising crime rates, especially high-profile kidnappings for ransom, and an abortive attempt by an opposition group in Congress to impeach the Chief Justice for alleged corruption, further exacerbated political tensions. Political manoeuvring in advance of the 2004 presidential elections accelerated as President Arroyo announced in October that she would seek re-election.ARMED CONFLICT IN MINDANAO
Attempts to revive peace talks with the separatist Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) faltered throughout the year. Following clashes between the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and MILF forces around Pikit (central Mindanao) in February, and amid accusations that the MILF were harbouring criminals responsible for kidnappings, the AFP launched an offensive against nearby MILF camps and communities. Over 200 people were reported to have been killed in the fighting and over 40,000 civilians were displaced. Following the offensive the MILF launched sporadic attacks on communities and infrastructure. Scores of civilians were reportedly killed. In July the two sides agreed cease-fire arrangements, but progress towards a resumption of peace talks, to be mediated by Malaysia, was slowed by periodic armed clashes. Government concerns that the MILF maintained links with a regional "terrorist" network, Jemaah Islamiyah (JI), believed responsible for the 2002 Bali bombings, also impeded progress.BOMBINGS AND THE ARRESTS OF MUSLIM SUSPECTS
At least 38 civilians were killed in two bombings in Davao city, eastern Mindanao, in March and April. Officials announced that the MILF and JI may have been responsible, and President Arroyo declared a "state of lawlessness" in the city. In subsequent police sweeps, at least 12 Muslim suspects were reportedly arrested without warrants in Davao and Cotabato and held incommunicado for extended periods. There were fears that some were tortured or ill-treated by the Philippine National Police (PNP) seeking confessions and information.
Peace negotiations between the government and the National Democratic Front representing the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), remained largely stalled. Progress was impeded by the 2002 designation of the CPP-NPA as a "terrorist" organization by the Philippine, US and some European Union governments. However, informal talks on restarting formal negotiations took place in Norway in October and November.
Scattered clashes between AFP and NPA units continued throughout the year. Alleged NPA members were vulnerable to human rights violations, including arbitrary arrest, "disappearance", torture and extrajudicial execution. Also at risk were members of legal leftist organizations suspected by the AFP of being sympathetic to the NPA.
The CPP-NPA committed human rights abuses. In January the CPP-NPA claimed
responsibility for killing former senior CPP-NPA leader Romulo Kintanar in
Manila for "criminal and counter-revolutionary" activities. In November NPA
forces reportedly abducted and killed two villagers near Bananga (Mindanao) whom
they suspected of assisting the AFP.
Procedural weaknesses in the administration of criminal justice, including unlawful arrests without warrants by the PNP, and lack of access to lawyers and doctors during extended periods of "custodial investigation" before the filing of charges, continued to facilitate the use of torture or ill-treatment to coerce confessions. Intimidation and torture continued to undermine complaints procedures and fair trial safeguards. Those vulnerable after arrest included alleged members of armed opposition groups and ordinary criminal suspects, including women and children. Campaigning by a coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) focused attention on legislative initiatives criminalizing acts of torture and further safeguarding the rights of detainees. However, the legal reforms had not been passed by Congress by the end of the year.
Despite an array of laws and safeguards specifically designed to protect children in custody, defects in the juvenile justice system continued to facilitate abuses, including torture and ill-treatment. Children were detained with adults in overcrowded facilities, exposing child detainees to abuse by other prisoners. Children were also denied prompt access to social workers, lawyers and families following arrest, and suffered lengthy delays before being brought before a judge and before their trials were concluded. The lack of a requirement to establish the age of a child on arrest continued to lead to inappropriate sentencing and treatment.VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
Despite plans by government agencies to improve the protection of women in detention, women continued to be at risk of rape, sexual assault and other forms of torture and ill-treatment. Investigations into such violations were inadequate and rarely resulted in prosecutions. Domestic violence continued to be widespread: the lack of a law criminalizing domestic violence continued to limit legal recourse for violence in the home. A bill criminalizing domestic violence remained pending before Congress.DEATH PENALTY
In November, President Arroyo declared that a moratorium against executions (announced in 2002 pending congressional consideration of bills abolishing the death penalty) would be lifted with regard to convicted kidnappers and drug traffickers. More than 1,916 people had been sentenced to death since capital punishment was restored in 1993 and seven men executed. The President had previously rejected calls for executions to resume as a response to public concerns over increased criminality, especially kidnappings for ransom. She said that broad-based institutional reform of the PNP and the criminal justice system offered a more effective means to confront and deter criminality.
At least seven young offenders remained under sentence of death for offences committed when they were under the age of 18, even though the law makes clear that child offenders cannot be sentenced to death or executed. They were transferred off death row in 2002, but their cases had yet to be reviewed by the lower courts or their death sentences commuted.
In October the Philippines presented its consolidated second and third periodic reports to the HRC on its implementation of the ICCPR. The Committee expressed concern at reports of cases of grave human rights violations that had not been investigated or prosecuted, thus encouraging a culture of impunity, and of threats and intimidation impeding the right to an effective remedy. In relation to persistent reports of torture, the Committee called for an effective system of monitoring of all detainees; prompt investigations of complaints by an independent authority; and for the guarantee in practice of free access to lawyers and doctors immediately after arrest and at all stages of detention. Other recommendations included more effective laws and measures to protect children, especially in detention, and to prevent trafficking of women and children. The Committee expressed concern at the vague definitions and broad scope of "counter-terrorism" legislative proposals. It also called for greater protection for indigenous peoples.KILLINGS OF JOURNALISTS
Within the context of a vibrant free press, seven journalists were killed during the year. Most of the killings were believed to be related to broadcasts or articles seen as exposing alleged corruption or criticizing local political, business or criminal interests. Despite government offers of rewards for information leading to the arrest of suspects, investigations into the killings had not made significant progress by the end of the year.AI COUNTRY VISITS
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