New body to reopen ‘cold’ rights cases
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A new body tasked to handle extrajudicial killings and other abuses is set to release a list of “cold” human rights cases that may be revived for reinvestigation and possible prosecution of the perpetrators.
The Inter-Agency Committee (IAC) on Extrajudicial Killings and Human Rights Violations will be identifying the cases that investigators should prioritize, Justice Secretary Leila de Lima told a forum at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, Quezon City.
“Part of the mandate of the IAC is to reopen those cold cases, with the hope of having successful prosecution. In our second meeting next week, we will come up with a list of priority cases to ensure there are convictions in those cases,” she said.
She said the committee’s technical working group, which she heads, will base its list of unsolved extrajudicial killings on a new working definition of the term.
“Before there were many definitions of extrajudicial killings, or EJKs. Our working definition of EJKs is that the victim was targeted because of his affiliation with militant organizations and because of his advocacies,” De Lima said.
De Lima said these would include the killing of environmentalists, including antimining advocates.
“And the offender is either a state actor, a state agent, or a nonstate agent. We are not limited to state agents,” she said.
The murder of media practitioners would also be considered an EJK, though on a separate list, she said.
The IAC was created by President Aquino last November under Administrative Order No. 35.
It is composed of representatives from the justice, local governments and national defense departments, and the Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, Office of the Presidential Adviser for Political Affairs, Presidential Human Rights Committee, the Armed Forces, the Philippine National Police and the National Bureau of Investigation.
No law for killings
De Lima noted that unlike enforced disappearances, there was still no law on extrajudicial killings, which at present are considered no different from ordinary murder cases.
The justice secretary spoke at a workshop and forum at the UP Asian Center that discussed ways to ensure the proper implementation of Republic Act No. 10350, or the the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Act, which criminalizes abduction by the state or its agents.
Based on that law, which was signed by President Aquino in December, enforced disappearance is committed when a citizen is deprived of liberty by the state or agents of the state, and when information on the whereabouts of the missing is concealed or denied.
At the forum, Canadian Ambassador to Manila Christopher Thornley said his country was pleased with the positive steps taken by the Philippines in trying to stamp out human rights violations by state actors.
However, Dean Carolyn Sobritchea of the Asian Center noted that the Philippines was known as “a country that’s very good in passing laws but very poor in getting the laws implemented.”
She said civil society must take steps “to make sure we implement the provisions of the law properly.”
Rep. Edcel Lagman, the law’s principal author, said enforced disappearance was a heinous crime that can “cause the whole community to cower in fear.”
“We really wanted an antienforced disappearances law that would holistically address the human suffering caused by the offense… break immunity and uphold the rule of law, and the make a strong public declaration against enforced disappearances and other forms of human rights violations,” he said.