LICADHO employee, Leang Sokchouen, at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal

Leang Sokchouen at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal. Photo by LICADHO.

Yesterday, I attended Leang Sokchouen’s trial at the Phnom Penh Court of Appeal. Sokchouen is a LICADHO employee who was charged with disinformation (under the UNTAC Penal Code) in September 2010. Here an extract of the LICADHO press release issued after the trial court ruling:

Sokchouen was accused of distributing anti-government fliers in Takeo Province on January 4, 2010. Sokchouen was a longtime acquaintance of co-defendant Tach Khong Phoung, but consistently testified that he had no knowledge on the flier incident. The so-called evidence provided by the police against Sokchouen consisted of a simple list of phone numbers claiming Sokchouen and Tach Khong Phoung had called each other.

Another defendant, Tach Vannak, initially claimed while detained at the Ministry of Interior’s National Police that Sokchouen was involved in distributing the fliers.

However, Vannak retracted part of his statement in court yesterday, saying that he only implicated Sokchouen because of false promises made by police interrogators. He claimed police promised him that he would be allowed to go back to his family in exchange for his cooperation.

(…) The prosecution produced no in-court witness testimony or evidence. The judge relied entirely on written statements and four alleged witness statements from police officers. None of these individuals were ever called to court by the investigating judge.

By all appearances, the investigating judge did not do any investigative work on the case whatsoever. This is contrary to the spirit of Article 127 of the Code of Criminal Procedure, which states that an investigating judge “has the obligation to collect inculpatory as well as exculpatory evidence.” This oversight left the trial judge to rely entirely on police investigation report – written before the suspects were questioned or arrested.

Conversely, the Sokchouen’s defense team provided extensive in-court testimony, including evidence that Sokchouen was in Phnom Penh – not Takeo – on January 4, 2010.

The judge stated that in-court testimonies by the three accused “could not be trusted” and based his decision entirely upon the police report and interrogation. Article 118 of the Code of Criminal Procedure states that police reports can be used for “information only,” but that they may also be considered as evidence if they are not “proven false.” Despite strong evidence that the police report was indeed false, the judge failed in his duty to evaluate its veracity. He simply accepted the report as truth.

In appeal, Sokchouen was represented by two LICADHO lawyers, who were given less than 24 hours to prepare. During the hearing, Sokchouen’s lawyers requested bail. However, after a five minute discussion, the judges refused citing possible public disorder. The judges, along with the defence, interviewed Sokchouen. In under two hours – with two of the judges regularly dozing off – the court announced that their final verdict would be communicated on July 14th at 8am. While about 100 people showed up to support Sokchouen, only a small number were allowed in the court room despite it being a public trial.

Sous Chantha, union leader, released.

By Siena Anstis

Trade union leader Sous Chantha’s wife holds a press conference after her husband’s trial on Friday, June 24th 2011.

When I first arrived in Phnom Penh, I was invited to attend a ceremony in support of Sous Chantha, a Cambodian union leader. Along with his family and other garment factory workers, we went to a pagoda near CC1 and participated in a Buddhist blessing. A crowd of friends, family and supporters then walked to the correctional center and released balloons. The hope was that Chantha would see them as they floated above the prison walls. At the time, Chantha had been held a month longer than provisional detention allows in Cambodian law (unless there is a formal hearing to renew provisional detention with a maximum of 12 months total).

Yesterday, I attended Chantha’s trial at the Phnom Penh Capital Court of First Instance. Chantha was first accused of drug trafficking, but the charges were eventually lowered to drug distribution (some believe this change happened because it was blatantly not trafficking, others because of pressure from unions and companies buying from Cambodian garment factories).

The facts laid out in LICADHO’s press release shortly after his arrest were confirmed during the trial by Chantha and a garment worker who had witnessed the events (he was on a motorbike behind Chantha when the arrest happened). The garment worker said that the police had beaten Chantha after forcing him off his motorbike. Chantha said the military police had “turned him away” (translation from Khmer) from his motorbike. It is likely that Chantha did not use the same language as the witness in order to not attract more trouble. When Chantha was allowed to turn around again and look at his motorbike, the police shone a flashlight on the back hatch and accused him of having drugs. All Chantha could see was the corner of a small plastic packet near the motorcycle’s battery; the other nine packet of drugs were only revealed to him when he arrived at the police station. Both Chantha and the witness confirmed that there was indeed no roadblock at the time of Chantha’s arrest. Notably, the military police who had arrested Chantha failed to show up at the trial.

In their closing statements, the defense lawyers argued that Chantha could not be convicted for the distribution because this would require evidence of a buyer. Moreover, it was possible to slip a thin plastic baggy of drugs into the back of the motorcycle without actually opening it (i.e. it could have been done in the factory parking lot which is a public space). The defense lawyers also emphasized the suspicious nature of the arrest: it happened shortly after he transferred his union’s 1000 members from the Independent & Democratic Union Federation (IDUF) to the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C-CAWDU). The prosecutor argued that because Chantha claimed during the trial to not do drugs at all, by default the drugs must have been meant for distribution.

After about two hours of questioning and an hour-long wait, the judge called Chantha back in and announced the verdict. They found him guilty. He was sentenced to ten months in jail, but ordered only to serve seven months and five days in prison. Since this was the time he had spent in pre-trial detention and the prosecutor decided not to appeal, he was released that evening. As Chantha walked out of the court at midday to be brought back to the prison before being released, he was applauded by a garment factory workers and his family. His father started crying.

From my understanding of the trial (through a translator) there was no evidence to support distribution charges. The following day, the Cambodia Daily reported that “local and international rights groups, including Amnesty International, raised doubts over the charges and said that they seemed to be linked to his union activities. Some said the arrest served to intimidate unionists.” Moeun Tola, from the Community Legal Education Center, was also quoted in the Cambodia Daily: “We’re not happy with the verdict. It’s unfair for him, an injustice for him that he was charged with drug distribution. We still believe his case was set up.” The presiding judge, Din Sivuthy, has been involved in previous human rights cases with suspicious (and “shocking”) verdicts (see this acid attack case and journalist Hang Chakra’s conviction).

Chantha was released from prison yesterday evening. After participating in a Buddhist ceremony, he returned home to his family after having spent over seven months in prison.

Mrs. Burgos’ search for her son

2011-Luke-BrownBy Luke Brown

Only two things will stop me. Finding my son, or I die. So I’m not going to stop.” – Edita Burgos.

Last week, I had the privilege of seeing Edita Burgos speak. In the past four years, Mrs. Burgos has led a tireless campaign in an attempt to answer the question: where is her son, Jonas Burgos?

Four years ago Jonas was dragged from a Manila restaurant in broad daylight by four men and one woman. He was thrown into a van and hasn’t been seen since. The abductors were not wearing masks, and the licence plate of the van was fully visible. This is typical of enforced disappearances in the Philippines, where agents of the State brazenly abduct people accused of participating in the communist insurgency (but who generally, at most, only have connections to left-leaning groups). Jonas is a farmer-activist.

Edita Burgos speaks at the Ateneo de Manila University law school, Manila, Philippines, Friday, June 17, 2011.

Mrs. Burgos sought justice through all the official channels, filing complaints with the police and the national Commission on Human Rights (an independent investigatory agency). When this led nowhere, she sought relief through the Court of Appeals of the Philippines, and finally the Supreme Court, which ordered the Commission on Human Rights to perform a full investigation into Jonas’ disappearance, citing major lapses in the police and military investigations into the matter.

In March of this year, this Commission released its report, in which it found there was enough evidence against the military to recommend laying criminal charges against several military officers and the former police chief for arbitrary detention and obstruction of justice.

So Mrs. Burgos is soldiering on. Two weeks ago she filed a complaint with the Department of Justice, asking for charges to be laid against the officers. Sadly, she will now have to wait even longer. In cases of extrajudicial killings (a related phenomenon to enforced disappearances), it takes on average 7 months from the filing of a complaint for the DOJ to lay charges.

This is a good illustration of how slow and cumbersome the domestic legal remedies are.

But this case is also an illustration of the amazing and tireless work that many human rights advocates in the Philippines (including the Ateneo Human Rights Center, where I’m volunteering) are doing to address the phenomenon of enforced disappearances.

I met Mrs. Burgos at a presentation she delivered through the Ateneo Human Rights Center. Her story is so compelling, local playwrights even wrote a one-act play about her.

Despite the painfully slow pace of the official investigations, Mrs. Burgos is undeterred. She is fiercely committed to finding her son. As she told me, “only two things will stop me. Finding my son, or I die. So I’m not going to stop.”

For more information, visit this siteThis article describes Jonas’ abduction.

Postcard from Cambodia: How a new law threatens Canada’s aid to millions

Just up on THIS Magazine. Based on a previous article published in the Guardian (UK), this post takes a closer look at Canada’s role in the Cambodian draft NGO & Associations Law.

Slate: “Silence of the Lambs: For do-gooder NGOs in Cambodia, accommodation with the regime is very profitable.”

Slate just published a scathing – and refreshing – article on NGOs working in Cambodia. A number of the author’s comments ring true for aid and development work anywhere in the world. In particular,

The point here is not that every seemingly good cause is a fraud and that all international aid groups are poverty pimps (though some certainly are). It’s that people should bring the same degree of scrutiny to NGOs as they do to corporations and governments (and the media for that matter). And nowhere is a jaundiced eye more warranted than in examining the do-gooder community of Cambodia.

Silverstein also highlights the relationship between the corrupt Cambodian government and NGOs. One approach of choice by NGOs is working in the ‘back end’:

Gauntlett declined to comment for this story, but Wildlife Alliance provided a general response: ‘The blame game doesn’t work for groups like us inside Cambodia. We have to be careful and build alliances that are sometimes uncomfortable. It’s delicate because the government can shut down an NGO whenever it wants. But we work on the inside, quietly, and get things done. We’ve been able to get things done and reverse concessions by working quietly inside the government and reminding it of its own legal obligations.’

But, when is this simply just not worth it anymore? Silverstein concludes the article with the following:

The NGOs desperately want access and the basic equation is that the government grants it to them in exchange for their silence about corruption or anything else remotely controversial,” says the Western expatriate who has worked on land issues. “At a certain point you have to ask yourself, ‘Where is this going, and what are we accomplishing?’

Using new laws to impair freedom of expression in Cambodia

By Siena Anstis

This past week I started writing a brief on the use of repressive legislation in Cambodia to restrict freedom of expression and related rights like freedom of association and assembly. With a majority in Parliament, the ruling Cambodian’s People Party has passed or is about to pass legislation that could be used to legitimize their crackdown on human rights defenders, NGOs, journalists and other concerned parties critical of the government.

Penal Code

The new Cambodian Penal Code was passed in December 2010. It replaces the former UNTAC Penal Code. While the new Penal Code does not contain the same UNTAC disinformation clause (which has been used to jail journalists and wrongfully convict other individuals), it creates a number of new crimes susceptible to abuse. This includes a provision for “incitement” which is defined as incitement to commit a crime or incitement of “serious turmoil in society.” Shortly after the passage of the new Penal Code, World Food Program staff member Seng Kunnaka was convicted on the charge of criminal incitement for printing and sharing material from the website ki-media, an online blog critical of the government [Incidentally, as I write this, my access to ki-media is down again. There are rumours the government is having it blocked]. The government is not hiding one of the new Code’s purposes: “Before, using the argument of ‘freedom of expression’ and opposition party status, some people could insult anybody or any institution. This is not the case now,” said the Cambodian Minister of Information.

For a more in-depth analysis of the new Penal Code provisions, check out this report.

Demonstrations Law

The Demonstrations Law was adopted in 2009. It makes it de facto necessary to receive authorization to protest. Demonstrations can be refused if they harm the rights to “freedom and honour of others, good customs of society and national security”. This differs from the ICCPR article which allows for limits on demonstrations only on the basis of “public safety, public order, public health or morals.” Moreover, the law fails to provide judicial redress in cases where authorization is refused. The Centre for Cambodian Human Rights Report also suggests that the law has been used before to crackdown on private meetings. Finally, and possibly the most disconcerting part of the law for the moment, is the creation of “Freedom Parks” across the country. These “Freedom Parks” are areas where protestors can hold protests after providing 12 hours notice. While the parks do not exclude the use of other public venues, there are concerns they may still be used to isolate and neutralize demonstrations.

Anti-Corruption Law

The third law is the Anti Corruption Law passed in May 2011. While a number of corrupt officials have been charged under the law, there are allegations that these charges are more related to factional splits in the ruling party than to corruption in Cambodia. A number of provisions are problematic. In particular, the law does not provide adequate protections for whistleblowers and thus discourages people from coming forward.

Draft Trade Union Law

The draft law contains a number of provisions that offer the government an opportunity to legitimize their crackdown on the trades union sector through the courts. Several articles of the law blatantly violate the International Labor Organization Convention No. 87 (see this article by article analysis of the law). Key concerns include the inclusion of criminal penalties and hefty fines that could be used to threaten union leaders from speaking out against the government. Vague language contained in the law could also be used by the government to curtail freedom of expression. For example, the provision outlawing demonstrations for “purely political purposes” could be used to prevent legal demonstrations or strikes in opposition of government policies.

Draft Associations and NGO Law

This law is currently in draft form, but it is expected that the government will try and pass the law before the end of the year. In violation of freedom of association protected under the Cambodian Constitution and the ICCPR, the law enforces the mandatory registration of associations and NGOs (see this analysis by LICADHO). It also imposes a number of burdensome registration requirements, which would severely restrict the operation of rural grassroots groups with limited resources. It gives authorities unbounded discretion to approve registration applications, with few guidelines to transparently steer these decisions. There is no appeals process if registration is denied. The law is also loosely drafted, giving it an apparently unlimited scope.

In its current form, the law would likely lead to the outlawing of several informal groups which do not want to register with the government or do not have the capacity. These informal networks give a voice to a number of vulnerable groups including sex workers. The likely closure of grassroots NGOs and associations, which provide information to international donors, could impair economic development in Cambodia. With the press muzzled and the private sector often complicit in human rights violations, NGOs are the last body able to report on human rights abuses and corruption in Cambodia.

Apparently a couple of embassies in Phnom Penh (but not the US embassy), when first faced with the Associations & NGO Law, thought it was a perfectly reasonable law to have in place. After all, many Western countries do have some kind of Association and NGO law. What they failed to consider was the Cambodian context. Most importantly, there is no judiciary to enforce the law fairly (see Cambodia’s recent ranking as 35/36 on the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index) or to create a body of precedent that would narrow or at least purposively develop the ambiguity of many of these provisions. Rather, new laws give the government something to point at when they decide to shut down an NGO, move a protest to a Freedom Park or fine a union leader. New laws make it harder to argue that the government is acting out of bounds.

The content and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by LICADHO or its affiliates.

Sunrith Ham, Deputy Director of Monitoring & Protection at LICADHO: Representing human rights defenders in Cambodia

By Siena Anstis

Sunrith works with a number of human rights victims in Cambodia including the Dey Krahorm community (above). Members of the community were evicted from their land in 2009 for ‘development purposes’ and moved to a relocation site. Their former land remains vacant.

At first face, working as a lawyer in Cambodia seems like a disheartening experience. Corruption is endemic: the rich and powerful bribe judges to have cases found in their favor and use criminal sentencing to deter resistance from members of the community. The police, acting under the instruction of the government, often comply in the harassment and arrest of human rights activists.

Someone recently asked me why anyone would continue working within such a broken legal system. I think Sunrith’s story is a good example of how coping with difficult circumstances in the hope of helping suffering individuals starts with a personal decision – one intimately connected to culture and religion. In the end, perhaps change makers are not inspired by a single defining event, but rather an uphill struggle led by instinct.

Sunrith graduated with a legal diploma from a Phnom Penh university in 1997 at the age of 22. The government appointed him as a law clerk in his hometown. As a government employee, he was making $20 USD a month. His first experience with the evolving Cambodian legal system was not a positive one. He recounts how a woman’s child was arrested and arraigned in front of the judges. The mother offered them a bundle of money carefully tied with a rope made from banana leaves. The money had clearly been saved up – diligently, meticulously, through hardwork. She bought her child’s freedom; the judges did not complain.

Religion and culture can deeply influence a person. In Cambodian culture, and particularly in Buddhist families, youth are taught to obey their superiors. But, Sunrith was different. He felt he had received two messages: to listen to people older than him; but also to question decisions like those made by the judges at the provincial court. He says his religion, Buddhism, also helped him make the difficult decision to leave his clerking position: “I didn’t feel like I was doing a good thing. I felt that if I was not making people feel better, I was not taking the right route.”

His parents were surprised by his decision. As a class-conscious family in a class-conscious society, they were delighted that their son had found work with the government. Despite this family pressure, he left this position to permanently move to Phnom Penh, the country’s growing capital, some 160 km away.

Sunrith’s first job was as a typist. At first, he was content. He was financially independent as the new job paid more than the government. However, after a few months, he began questioning his decision: should someone with a diploma in law work as a typist? Could he push himself to do more?

Soon he decided to leave his relatively comfortable position as a typist and began volunteering and then interning with LICADHO. He spent the first five years working with the Prison Office. Cambodian prisons, notorious for their horrific living conditions, became a second home to him. While others would express fear or disgust towards prisoners, Sunrith was happy to talk with them, bringing them bananas to help the day past faster. Seeing people energized and rewarded by his presence clearly made him happy.

Eventually, Sunrith transferred to LICADHO’s Human Rights Monitoring Office and this helped him make the decision to become a practicing lawyer. “You see injustice from case to case, but as an observer [a human rights monitor who tracks human rights abuses] you cannot express yourself, you are not in the system.”

Sunrith says that some days he is exhausted and considers leaving the legal profession. Yet, his friends and colleagues convince him that if he stops working, human rights defenders will have a difficult time finding a trusted lawyer to represent them free of charge. Around LICADHO, Sunrith has the reputation of a formidable lawyer: someone with a chilling confidence in front of the Cambodian Supreme Court, the country’s highest judicial body.

While he acknowledges that changing old societal practices would be difficult, he does believe that he can help change the attitude within the courts in Cambodia. To fight corruption and injustice, Sunrith hopes that the next generation will not be taught to accept the orders of their superiors, but rather to question authority. He says that future legal professionals should not concentrate on whether or not there is law, but rather on implementing the existing law and abiding by the rules set out within.

Working with LICADHO, Sunrith, who has been in the thick of human rights activities in Cambodia since the late 90’s, does note some positive changes. He says that the number of political killings has decreased substantially. Rather, the government is now using the courts to dissuade people from challenging them. The fact that the government’s weapon is no longer primarily the gun, but rather the law, is seen as a step – although a twisted one – forward.

Watching community activism in action also seems to give Sunrith renewed hope. He speaks admiringly of the communities living around Prey Lang forest who came all the way to Phnom Penh a few weeks ago to protest the destruction of their forest. He advises the residents of Boeung Kak lake, another community being evicted from their land, to believe in their struggle. “How can you change injustice? How can you change the attitude of the government? Hope comes day to day, from the people. It does not come from institutions or the policymakers.” He says that while Boeung Kak lake residents may lose their homes, in the end, they have set a fighting precedent that will hopefully grow and overcome the “cancer”of corruption and exploitation ailing the country.

Land disputes and violent resistance in Cambodia

LICADHO sprang into action Thursday afternoon when a stand off between villagers and the police in Kampong Speu Province turned violent (see the excellent Radio Free Asia video clip of the clashes here).

This violence comes in the wake of yet another land dispute. The situation in the province has been tense for years. In December 2009, the Supreme Court ruled against the villagers and awarded Taiwanese-owned Meng Keth Company 65 hectares of their land. Thursday’s clashes happened after the prosecutor, Kuth Sopheang, led “a force of hundreds of armed police and military police” in an attempt to enforce the verdict.

Land grabbing is now one of the leading causes of human rights abuses in Cambodia. LICADHO research shows that “more than a quarter of a million people have been affected by land grabbing and forced evictions since 2003.” There is little legal recourse for poor citizens. The courts in Cambodia are rife with corruption: unless one can pay off the judge, the chance of winning the case is slim.

In a perverted twist of justice, the government and powerful companies also use criminal sentencing in the court to dissuade further violence. It is not unreasonable to expect that some of the main community leaders in Kampong Speu will be slapped with criminal charges and arraigned in front of the court, even if they were not present at the violence. Fabricated evidence and a bribe would ensure that they are incarcerated. As explained by a lawyer here, this method is used because it destroys community resistance without resorting to bullets or assassinations. Ironically, there has been a slump in the number of politically motivated assassinations; but an increase in politically motivated criminal sentencing. Considering how horrific conditions are in Cambodian prisons, one wonders which is preferable.

The violence that ensued in Kampong Speu was “foreseeable” – and LICADHO warned the prosecutor that he had both the moral and legal obligation to avoid violence by not enforcing the eviction order at that time. But it was also fairly apparent, judging by the atmosphere after these events, that the use of violence by villagers to protect their land is not something that people, generally speaking, are used to (though there have been violent clashes before). Land disputes in Phnom Penh, the country’s capital, have usually not involved such a high level of resistance. LICADHO cautions that the violence may be “a sign of things to come.”

This situation reminded me of a conversation with a friend and activist in Montreal a few months ago. He asked me whether I thought violent resistance should be used in Egypt (this was during the protests in January). I struggled to offer an answer that I could justify. A part of me thought that violent resistance would diminish global outcry as international human rights activists would have a harder time justifying these actions and thus putting the situation on the forefront of national agendas (and, in a place like Cambodia, shaming a country can be an effective stick to force change). However, events in Libya seem to have proven me partially wrong (partially right in the sense that despite a violent resistance, the situation has persisted longer than in Egypt although other factors were at play there.)

It does seem – to be blunt – understandable that those about to lose their land and their only livelihood of rice farming would take up arms, especially since major human rights bodies like the United Nations seem to advocate incremental dialogue with the government and the use of a broken judiciary rather than taking more forceful action. As the Director of LICADHO says in this press release, “They have been abused by the system at every step of the way – abused by private interests, by armed forces, by the prosecutor and by the courts,” […] “They are at the end of their rope. They have nothing left to lose. What do you expect them to do?”

An acquaintance, who has spent almost a decade in Cambodia, commented on the fact that those facing land evictions, particularly in the rural Provinces, did not have the “luxury” of non-violent demonstrations because there was no one to watch them. It is true that in Phnom Penh demonstrators have the option of drawing a larger crowd that facilitates the essential work of the media and other interested parties. Yet, their urban struggles have largely been unsuccessful whereas after this recent clash, the villagers were able to keep their land – at least temporarily.

It is hard to come to a conclusive response on the role of violent demonstrations in the context of land disputes in Cambodia. However, I do think LICADHO makes an important point: if the government doesn’t take action, if the international community continues to see Cambodia as a mostly stable developing country, and if people are not given a fair forum to resolve these land disputes, one can likely expect that more situations like this will arise.

The content and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by LICADHO or its affiliates.

Remembering the desaparecidos

By Luke Brown

My work so far in the Philippines has centred on extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances (EDs), picking up on the work that Chris Maughan did last year with the Ateneo Human Rights Center.

This past week (29 May – 4 June 2011) was the International Week of the Disappeared, an event initiated over 20 years ago by civil society organizations in Latin America. The purpose of the week is to remember the victims of, and shed light on the problem of, enforced disappearances worldwide. This is a major problem that persists in the Philippines.

An ED is when agents of the state, or private individuals working with the authorization, support or acquiescence of the state, abduct a person for political ends. The person (a “desaparecido”) is denied due process rights, and the state generally denies all knowledge of their whereabouts. Sometimes the victim will resurface weeks later, still alive. Other times they will never be seen again.

Victims of ED in the Philippines are generally accused of having links to the New People’s Army, the outlawed military wing of the Community Party of the Philippines (although membership in the Communist Party itself is legal). The government here has been engaged in a protracted counter-insurgency effort against communist rebels for the past 40 years.

However, generally the victims of ED in the Philippines have no link to any armed groups. More often they are simply associated with left-leaning civil society organizations, farmers’ unions, trade unions, or other grassroots organizations.

It’s difficult to measure the scale of the problem. The highest estimate comes from the human rights organization Karapatan, which reported 204 cases of ED from 2001-2009. There hasn’t been a single conviction for these crimes.

Despite widespread criticism from local and international organizations, including from the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or abitrary executions, the Philippine government has been slow to respond. On an official institutional level, the greatest progress has arguably been made by the Supreme Court of the Philippines, which has been quite outspoken on the need to take action. In recent years, the Court also crafted two procedural safeguards for victims of EDs and ELKs (although the effectiveness of these safeguards is questionable). I’m currently helping the Ateneo Human Rights Center put together a compilation of domestic and international caselaw on EDs and ELKs, to be used by the Philippine judiciary.

Last week I attended an event in Manila to commemorate the International Week of the Disappeared. This event brought together civil society groups as well as members of the human rights office of the police. It was quite heartening to see such passionate human rights advocates come together – many of whom whose friends or family members had been subjected to an ED – to vocally denounce this practice. (The image above comes from Task Force Detainees of the Philippines.)

However, this event was also a reminder of just how strong the “culture of impunity” is here. EDs are not a secret in the Philippines. They are a well-recognized problem with deep roots in the state’s counter-insurgency strategy. This problem is openly debated by the government, civil society organizations, human rights groups, the military, police and the judiciary; yet progress towards addressing it remains painfully slow.

Dey Krahorm evictions

A former Dey Krahorm community member speaks to an audience of media, concerned NGO leaders and fellow activists. More photos are available here.

By Siena Anstis

The picture above is from yesterday’s press conference held by Dey Krahorm community leaders. The press conference was originally organized to protest the holding of a football tournament on the former Dey Krahorm lands (the community was evicted in January 2009).

With activists having successfully lobbied for the cancellation of the tournament, the press conference turned into an opportunity to celebrate this success. However, it was also clear that Dey Krahorm residents remain frustrated and saddened by the fact that their lands remain empty, despite being kicked off them for “development” purposes.

Their living conditions also remain precarious: one speaker asked NGOs for medicine and food and several children and community members were sick. LICADHO’s Medical Office was able to provide some assistance by coming to the conference and providing medication, as well as helping arrange counselling services.

More information on Dey Krahorm can be found here, photos from the eviction in 2009 here and a press release on yesterday’s meeting here.

The content and opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect the views of nor are they endorsed by LICADHO or its affiliates.

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