Fix human rights laws, Amnesty urges Congress

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BAGUIO CITY—Amnesty International has urged the incoming 16th Philippine Congress to close loopholes in the antitorture law and two other laws designed to protect human rights.

At the release here on Friday of the organization’s 2013 human rights report, Amnesty Philippines human rights officer Romel de Vera presented cases of rights abuses to illustrate the weaknesses of Republic Act No. 9745, RA 6981 and RA 10353.

RA 9745 prohibits torture and other cruel, inhumane and degrading treatment of prisoners, while RA 6981 establishes a witness protection, security and benefit program. The third law, RA 10353, penalizes people involved in carrying out enforced disappearances.

De Vera cited the case of Darius Evangelista in which acts of torture and the identities of perpetrators were caught on video in 2010.

“Seven policemen were accused, but only two faced charges,” De Vera said, quoting the Amnesty report. “The suspects were initially in police custody, but according to the Commission on Human Rights, they went missing in April 2012 and remained at large.”

Amnesty plans to raise this issue in a report detailing its proposed legislative agenda which it will send to Congress in July, De Vera said.

No more safehouses

The report said: “Amnesty recommends that the members of the 16th Congress ensure that the oversight committee on the implementation of the antitorture act functions as described in the law, and provides sufficient support and resources to the CHR, for it to be able to carry out its duties of visitation, investigation and collection of data on detainees.”

Amnesty urged the committee that Congress would assign to study RA 9745 to include “a review of the progress of the torture cases that were filed in court, with particular focus on whether the application of the law is achieving its intent to deliver justice to the victims of torture.”

“The list of detention centers must also be released and there should be no safe houses,” De Vera said.

He said the government must also ratify the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance so it would fill the gaps and the loopholes in RA 10353, which was signed into law in December 2012.

The law fell short of international standards prescribed by the convention, he said.

“In the past 40 years, there have been more than 2,000 enforced disappearances in the country, including new cases during the Aquino administration,” the report said.

Protection of witnesses

Amnesty also urged Congress to amend the witness protection act by “establishing a mechanism for timely and sustainable protection for prospective witnesses, their families and victims’ families.”

The rights group said Congress “should also review the provisions criminalizing libel of the revised Penal Code and the Cybercrime Prevention Act, with a view to amend provisions which curtail freedom of expression.”

Amnesty also called for the repeal of legislation discriminatory to women and “to enact a law against discrimination based on ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity.”

After 100 days in their new terms, “we will ask [our lawmakers if] they paid attention to the human rights legislative agenda,” De Vera said.

“We will see if these laws took a back seat or if they helped in moving these laws forward,” he said.

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