Probe torture allegations, HRW asks PH
DAVAO CITY, Philippines - The government must immediately investigate the alleged torture of suspected Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) rebels detained in Zamboanga City, New York-based Human Rights Watch said on Friday, October 4.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said the detainees, including children, were reportedly beaten, tortured and mistreated by police and military authorities.
“Knowledgeable sources told Human Rights Watch that rebel suspects have reported being beaten and otherwise mistreated by military and police personnel before being turned over to the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm, a government prison facility on the outskirts of Zamboanga City where most suspected rebels are being held,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Torture of alleged MNLF suspects is reported to have occurred at the Southern City Colleges, a school in downtown Zamboanga where much of the September fighting occurred,” the group added.
Human Rights Watch data show there are at least 277 suspected MNLF rebels detained in Zamboanga City. A total of 229 are locked up at the San Ramon Penal Farm while 41 are at the Zamboanga Central Police District.
A suspected rebel is currently detained at the Criminal Investigation and Detection Group Facility while 6 minors are under the custody of the Department of Social Welfare and Development, according to the group.
As of posting, 97 of the suspected rebels have been charged with rebellion.
“The Philippines government should promptly investigate all credible accounts of detainee mistreatment, take appropriate action to stop it, and punish those responsible,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW.
Adams said the government must be more watchful considering the history of abuses allegedly committed by government forces against detainees.
The police and the military have maintained that they exerted best efforts to respect the human rights of suspected rebels who have either surrendered or been captured during the bloody standoff in Zamboanga City that officially ended on September 28.
They accused the MNLF of violating human rights by using hostages as "human shields" during the siege.
Human Rights Watch said that it was able to document one incident in which “rebels used hostages as human shields.”
Human Rights Watch said that a 77-year-old man claimed soldiers “pushed him to the ground and then kicked and stomped on him repeatedly” when he was arrested.
Three arrested minors, one is 17 years old while the other are 15 years old, said they were blindfolded and were repeatedly punched, slapped and kicked.
Human Rights Watch said the children showed cuts and bruises.
“The three denied that they were MNLF rebels, but said that MNLF rebels forced them to help feed hostages during the height of the fighting in Santa Barbara village, Zamboanga City. It is a violation of international law for forces to use children under 18 for any purpose,” HRW said.
The arrested children said government troops forced them to admit that they are rebels.
“They told us to admit that we were MNLF,” one 15-year-old told HRW.
“One of them pushed me to the ground and kicked me in the back,” he added.
The 17-year-old said he later lied and told security forces that he was with the MNLF just to get the beatings to stop.
“The other 15-year-old said security forces tied his hands so tightly that the rope cut into his wrists. He said he was whipped with a rope that left a bruise on his side,” Human Rights Watch said.
The detained minors said their blindfolds were only lifted when they were turned over to a police precinct on September 26.
“At least three other children arrested by the security forces were detained and mistreated as suspected MNLF fighters. Police handcuffed two of them to adult suspects and forced them to sit on the floor beside a detention cell used by female MNLF suspects for nearly two weeks without charges,” Human Rights Watch said.
No access to lawyers
Human Rights Watch also noted that detainees have “very limited or no access to lawyers and family members.”
“Police and military personnel continue to interrogate the San Ramon detainees, including those charged with offenses, without the presence of legal counsel, a violation of Philippines and international law guaranteeing legal representation. Lawyers from the Public Attorney’s Office represent dozens of the detainees at San Ramon, but it is not clear if these court-appointed lawyers have been present for all interrogations,” Human Rights Watch said.
“Prison authorities had initially insisted that any meetings with MNLF suspects be done while the suspect remained inside his cell. Eventually, however, the prison authorities relented and allowed private meetings with lawyers,” Human Rights Watch said.
Families of detained MNLF suspects are also barred access to the detention facilities, Human Rights watch said.
The relatives of Sattar Duran, a 52-year-old who was detained as a suspected rebel during the first days of the hostilities that began on September 9, told Human Rights Watch that they only learned that he was at the San Ramon detention facility last October 2.
“We have been looking for him but nobody told us where he was or where he was brought,” said Tita Duran, his wife. Human Rights Watch said other residents have claim several people from the five villages where the fighting happened are still missing including an imam.
Although access to detainees has been granted to representatives of the Commission on Human Rights and the International Committee of the Red Cross, the government has denied access to nongovernmental human rights group such as the Human Rights Watch to the facilities.
“Blocking access to detention facilities heightens the risk of serious mistreatment,” Adams said.
Human Rights Watch reminded the government that it is a party and has signed several international treaties including the Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the Involvement of Children in Armed Conflict.
“Placing children in detention with adults violates the government’s obligations under the Convention on the Rights of the Child and other treaties. If these children have indeed been used in the fighting by the MNLF, they are entitled to psychological services and assistance in social reintegration,” Human Rights Watch said.
Human Rights Watch asserted that international law also “prohibits torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of people in custody.”
“Individuals apprehended by the government should be promptly brought before a judge and charged with a credible criminal offense or released. The government has an obligation to investigate those responsible for the mistreatment of people in custody and discipline or prosecute them as appropriate,” the group said.
Human Rights Watch also criticized the use of Southern City Colleges by security forces to detain suspects.
Using public infrastructures, including schools, for military purposes is a violation of Republic Act 7610, Human Rights Watch said.
“The Philippines government has an obligation to conduct its investigations of rebel suspects in a transparent manner that respects due process and the rights of the accused to meet with lawyers and family members,” Adams said. - Rappler.com