Group insists counter-insurgency policy behind attacks on lawyers and judges

PRESS RELEASE — 4 June 2010

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND (3 June 2010) – Members of a Filipino civil society delegation claimed that  the  counter-insurgency policy of the outgoing Arroyo government is the  culprit  behind the spate of killings involving lawyers, judges and human rights defenders in the Philippines.

“The real problem lies in the outgoing Arroyo government’s counter-insurgency paradigm that employs polices that do not distinguish who are the combatants and who are not; who are armed and who are not…This is a counter-insurgency policy  that just lumped together all the critics and all those who are critical of the government’s policies and programs as enemies of the state… and, considering that they are enemies these people must be eliminated, one way or another,”  said lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate, vice president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and member of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (Ecumenical Voice for brevity). The group sent a five-member delegation to Geneva for the 14th Session of the UN Human Rights Council, which is being held from May 31 to June 18.

The other members of the delegation are: Rev. Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr., general secretary of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP), delegation head, Marie Hilo Enriquez, chairperson of the human rights alliance Karapatan,   Edre Olalia, acting secretary general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) and  Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Mia-Clamor, one of the health workers dubbed as the Morong 43 now illegally detained by the Arroyo government.

Zarate made the statement during a forum attended by lawyers, jurists, academics and other members of different civil society organizations from the different countries at the Palais des Nations here.

The gathering — with the  theme “Attacks on lawyers, Judges, and Human Rights Defenders: The Urgent Need for Protective Measures” —  was convened by the Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers  Foundation, Judges for Judges  and the International Commission of Jurists.  It was one of the side events of the ongoing session of the UN Human Rights Council.

“We believe that to effectively address the problem of attacks faced by judges, lawyers and human rights defenders, we have to employ more long term solutions.. long term protective measures that will have greater impact on the persons sought to be protected,” said Zarate who was  one of the reactors  of the said forum.

Since 2001, some 26 lawyers and 17 judges have already been killed in the Philippines. Some 51 other cases of lawyers being attacked, labeled and harassed were also recorded since 2001.

Zarate’ s  statement came as a response  made by Brazilian Judge Gabriela C. Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, who vowed to make herself available on a “full time “ basis.  She also said she will fully use her powers as a Special Rapporteur to work with  members of the civil  society organizations “to address the root causes that creates a scenario where threats  and  intimidations are happening.”

“We have to work together and do more  to employ effective protective measures to help the judges, lawyers and human rights defenders,” she said.

“In the Philippine context, there is clear interconnection between the culture of impunity,  the counter-insurgency policy of the government  and the lack of protective measures to address the problems spawned by such a policy,” Zarate noted.

Zarate also criticized the penchant of the Philippine government  to “misrepresent”  the manner by which it addresses the problem of impunity in the Philippines. He pointed for example the claims of   an official of the Philippine Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, who claimed that the Arroyo government immediately acted to “swiftly bring to justice those responsible” for the now internationally-condemned November 23, 2009 Ampatuan Massacre in Maguindanao, Mindanao.  “What swift justice is he boasting about? The Arroyo government through Acting Secretary of Justice Agra even tried to exonerate two of the principal accused in the case while the  attention of the Filipinos was focused on the recently concluded May national elections,”  Zarate said. ##

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