Tuesday, 25 August 2009

mnesty says increase in rights abuses in Philippines Muslim south

Amnesty International reports alarming levels of human rights abuses in the decades-old conflict in the southern Philippines, which has displaced hundreds of thousands and killed hundreds in the past year.

PIKIT, COTABATO, PHILIPPINES (FILE - AUGUST 2008) OMI MEDIA - Dozens of people have disappeared and have been found murdered in the marshland in the southern Philippines where soldiers had battled Muslim rebels in the past year, Amnesty International (AI) said in a report issued on Tuesday (August 25).
Aurora Parong, head of AI in the Philippines, said they were getting more worried over reports that the military has labeled the displaced communities as potential rebel bases, where Muslim guerillas could stage attacks on military targets.

The London-based watchdog released a 74-page report that documents cases of rights abuse in Muslim areas on the southern island of Mindanao.

Civilians suspected of supporting or fighting with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) are subjected to enforced disappearances, torture, and other physical abuse, the AI report said.

"In a 40-year-old conflict, the cumulative numbers of victims of human rights violations is really increasing, and it has reached very very alarming levels," Parong said.

Civilians have reported instances of soldiers forcibly entering their houses, pointing guns at them and destroying their possessions.

AI has documented cases of abduction, torture and killings of civilians by government soldiers.

"We're not just talking now of individuals being traumatised. We're talking of families, communities being traumatised," Parong said.

The Philippines human rights commission has counted more than 300 victims of extra-judicial killings, over 100 victims of enforced disappearances, and nearly 50 torture victims in Mindanao since 2001.

"We also call on the international community, particularly the European Union and Organisation of Islamic Countries to look into the possibilities of international monitors that can give credible reports on the human rights abuses and violations of IHL (international humanitarian law) in the ongoing conflict in Mindanao," Parong said.

Around 700,000, who have also been displaced from their homes due to heavy fighting in the past year, rely on limited food aid and suffer from various diseases, the report said. Diarrhea is common, with a short supply of clean water.

Last July both the government and MILF announced unilateral truces, ending nearly 12 months of violence that has killed 600 people in six towns in Mindanao.

The two sides agreed on a mechanism to help hundreds of thousands return to their homes and farms in time for Ramadan, a spokesman for the government peace panel said.

The Philippines government has been engaged in a 40-year-old battle against the MILF, which clamours for self-determination.

The past year's fighting sparked when the government ended peace negotiations in August last year after a deal to expand the existing Muslim autonomous region on Mindanao was stopped by the court.

Rogue elements of the MILF attacked largely Catholic communities, and the military responded with force.