MANILA (Reuters) - The United Nations has criticised the Philippines for failing to stop soldiers executing left-wing activists and for turning the other cheek as a death squad picked off street children in a southern city.
In a final report released this week into the murder of hundreds of leftists, journalists, farmers and urban poor, Philip Alston, the U.N. special rapporteur on extra-judicial executions, painted a dim picture of human rights in the Philippines.
In the southern city of Davao, a group known as the “Davao Death Squad” has murdered over 500 gang members, criminals and street children since 1998, the report said.
The killers do not cover their face before they stab or shoot their victims, signalling that the murders could be officially sanctioned, Alston noted.
The government spokesman was not immediately available to respond to the report.
Alston first said in February that soldiers were killing left-wing activists as part of a counter-insurgency campaign against communist rebels.
The military has denied that the murders are tactical and has instead blamed the deaths, often carried out by masked men on motorbikes, on an internal purge within the communist New People’s Army (NPA).
But, this week, Alston said the purge argument was, “a cynical attempt to displace responsibility”.
The law professor called on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, who made headlines at a regional summit last week for taking a tough stance against Myanmar’s human rights abuses, to stop the executions.
He said the death squad in Davao had to be stopped and the city mayor’s powers to supervise and control the police should be withdrawn.
The Philippine government has set up special courts to deal with the killings but Alston said no one had been convicted and only six cases involving journalists have resulted in guilty verdicts.
Alarmed at the killings, the Supreme Court introduced new rules last month which force the army to go beyond denials and probe allegations against their soldiers and produce evidence.
Alston noted that the police were reluctant to investigate soldiers, with whom there is often a feeling of solidarity, and said the legislature had failed to block the promotion of military officers implicated in human rights abuse.