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Cablegate: Human Rights Data Improves, but Civil Society

VZCZCXRO8222
OO RUEHCHI RUEHCN RUEHDT RUEHHM
DE RUEHML #2737/01 3520926
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 170926Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY MANILA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 2708
INFO RUEHZS/ASSOCIATION OF SOUTHEAST ASIAN NATIONS IMMEDIATE
RHHMUNA/CDRUSPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 MANILA 002737

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MTS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM ELAB PGOV RP
SUBJECT: HUMAN RIGHTS DATA IMPROVES, BUT CIVIL SOCIETY
STILL CRITICAL

REF: A. MANILA 2103 (DEMONSTRATING COMMITMENT TO STOP
KILLINGS)
B. MANILA 1759 (COURT CONVICTS SOLDIER FOR
DISAPPEARANCES)

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: At a December 10 celebration of the
Universal Declaration of Human Rights, human rights advocates
and the Philippine government's top human rights watchdog
delivered mixed analyses on the current human rights
situation in the Philippines. Advocates criticized the
government's inability to prosecute the most grave human
rights abuses, but acknowledged that the total number of
abuses -- particularly extrajudicial killings -- had declined
significantly since peaking in 2006. Participants praised
the aggressive investigations of the Commission on Human
Rights under Chairperson Leila De Lima, who assumed office in
May. De Lima said that, despite continued human rights
violations, sometimes by state actors, she did not believe
the government had a specific policy of encouraging human
rights abuses against political activists or journalists.
The Ambassador's well-received message of support, covered by
major newspapers, urged all participants to play a role in
protecting and promoting respect for human rights.
Government officials and NGOs during the forum, and on talk
shows later that evening, repeatedly cited the U.S.
Department of State Human Rights Report as an authoritative
source of information on the human rights situation in the
Philippines. END SUMMARY.

CIVIL SOCIETY SEEKS CONVICTIONS FOR ABUSES
------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights, Philippine civil society groups
and government officers on December 10 offered mixed reviews
of the human rights situation in the Philippines at a forum
hosted by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and the
Philippine Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism.
Speakers and audience members from NGOs said that the weak
response by law enforcement officials and the lack of
convictions for human rights abuses encouraged impunity for
state actors who may be involved in human rights violations,
especially extrajudicial killings (EJKs). The head of the
largest and most vocal anti-government human rights group,
Karapatan, lamented that the government appeared to be
resorting to arrests and illegal detentions to silence
activists and had yet to obtain more than a handful of
convictions for EJKs. Speakers at the forum condemned the
displacement of Mindanao's Muslim population and alleged
abuses committed against them, a consequence, they said, of
the military's ongoing pursuit of Muslim rebel forces in the
region.

BAR ASSOCIATION DOCUMENTS DECLINE IN KILLINGS
---------------------------------------------

3. (SBU) At a separate event on December 12, an audit report
funded by the Asia Foundation for the Integrated Bar of the
Philippines, the national bar association, found that 121 of
405 human rights cases documented at the CHR and at
Integrated Bar chapters for the period January 2001 to August
2008 qualified as EJKs. For purposes of the audit, the
Integrated Bar defined an EJK as a killing that occurred
because of the political affiliation of the victim or with
the involvement or acquiescence of state agents. According
to the Integrated Bar, there were 26 killings in 2005, 48 in
2006, 11 in 2007, and 3 through August 2008. The report's
authors made recommendations for preventing and prosecuting
human rights abuses, including granting quasi-judicial
authority to the CHR, which the CHR is already seeking
through a bill in Congress that would grant it some
prosecutorial powers. The head of Karapatan, present at both
the forum and the Integrated bar events, agreed that the
number of EJKs had in fact declined since peaking in 2006.

AMBASSADOR SHOWS U.S. SUPPORT FOR RIGHTS ADVOCATES
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (SBU) The Ambassador delivered an uplifting message of
support to those gathered, commending NGOs, labor leaders,
journalists, and religious groups for the roles they play in
protecting and promoting human rights. Security forces also
have important roles to play, the Ambassador said, in
investigating abuses and holding violators accountable.
While she noted the ideals set forth in the Universal
Declaration of Human Rights might be difficult to achieve,
the Ambassador emphasized that it is nonetheless imperative
for all society to work toward them. Responding to press

MANILA 00002737 002 OF 002


questions after her remarks, the Ambassador urged the
government to do more to hold perpetrators of human rights
abuses accountable for their actions.

CHR: NO SPECIFIC GOVERNMENT POLICY TO ENCOURAGE ABUSES
--------------------------------------------- ---------

5. (SBU) While NGOs criticized the government's overall
response to human rights abuses, participants heaped praise
on CHR Chairperson Leila De Lima for her aggressive approach
to investigating alleged abuses by state actors. De Lima
expressed dismay at the number of killings and disappearances
that continue to happen, many of which the CHR ascertained
were committed by members of the security forces. However,
De Lima said that she did not believe the government had a
specific policy of encouraging human rights abuses against
political activists or journalists, echoing the position of
UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston, who, in his April 2008
report, ascribed the government's tolerance of human rights
abuses to complex institutional problems, skewed priorities
in the justice system, and the military's broad
counterinsurgency strategy. Based on the Commission's
analysis, she said, such abuses were often committed by lone
actors, without explicit state support.

6. (SBU) Other areas of investigation at the CHR included the
killings of street children in Davao, forced evictions of
informal urban settlers by the Metropolitan Manila
Development Authority, internal displacement of civilians in
western Mindanao, and violations of children's rights.
Regarding the October arrests of well-known political
activists, De Lima said the CHR would conduct hearings for
public prosecutors to explain the basis for the arrests. The
Department of Justice was being helpful as the CHR looked at
these cases, but De Lima admitted these investigations were
difficult because they involved the government's "internal
checks and balances" on matters of law enforcement.

THE HUMAN RIGHTS REPORT, AN AUTHORITATIVE SOURCE
--------------------------------------------- ---

7. (SBU) NGO speakers at the forum cited the State
Department's Human Rights Report on the Philippines in their
remarks, reflecting the document's importance as an
authoritative reference tool for human rights advocates. In
a television interview later that evening, De Lima and her
ABS-CBN interviewer referred to the Report's section on EJKs,
noting the distinctions between abuses committed by state
actors and "security forces," one of the terms used in the
Report to incorporate the concept of paramilitary
organizations not under the direct control of government
forces.

COMMENT
-------

8. (SBU) Absent further progress in the prosecution of human
rights abuses, Philippine civil society groups are not likely
to temper their criticism of the government, even though EJKs
and enforced disappearances are on the decline compared to
previous years. Most groups do not view incremental,
year-to-year improvements in the human rights situation as
serious progress; instead, they focus on the number of total
killings since President Arroyo assumed office in 2001,
though such killings have been prevalent for most of the
Philippines' modern history. Working within a constrained
budget and a broad mandate under appointment by President
Arroyo -- who is viewed by a large part of the human rights
community as anathema to their values -- the CHR's
chairperson and commissioners could find it increasingly
difficult to mediate between militant civil society groups,
who resent being targeted for alleged ties to rebel Communist
forces, and certain government institutions, like the Armed
Forces of the Philippines, which, according to the CHR, only
reluctantly cooperate with human rights investigations.
Forums like the one attended by the Ambassador will be
important for elevating the CHR's perceived status within the
government and making civil society groups feel like they are
part of the solution to human rights abuses, and not just
part of the problem.

KENNEY

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