Solution to broken justice system is reform, not death squads

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In his column titled “Summary killings: Who’s complaining?” (“On Target,” Metro, 5/24/14), Ramon Tulfo criticizes Human Rights Watch for its recent report on death squad killings in Tagum City, which implicates former mayor Rey Uy. The report details the extrajudicial executions of alleged drug dealers, petty criminals, and street children, and is based in part on interviews with and affidavits from three self-proclaimed members of the death squad that carried out the killings.

Tulfo asks: “If Uy was indeed responsible for the killings of bad elements … so what?” He says the people of Tagum are not complaining because they “slept well in their homes at night and walked the streets without fear of getting mugged.”

His vision for the rule of law in a democratic society seems to be that “bad elements,” including 9-year-old children, should be subject to summary execution without due process or trial, so that citizens can “sleep well” at night. That in itself is a very troubling vision. But apart from the large body counts—not exactly a sign of a safe city—death squads invariably continue their murderous ways beyond the original mandate. In Tagum, Human Rights Watch documented how, by 2005, the death squad had morphed into a “guns for hire” criminal enterprise that targeted businessmen, police officers, and a judge, among others.

Tulfo claims that Human Rights Watch is biased because we “looked the other way” when US forces in Afghanistan and Iraq “kill innocent civilians” and when then Mayor Rudolf Giuliani was “uprooting weeds in New York City” in the 1990s.

Had Tulfo gone to our website, he would have found the numerous reports we have produced on US abuses in Afghanistan and Iraq, including on shootings and air strikes by US forces, and abuses by US soldiers against detainees. He would also have found Human Rights Watch’s reporting on police brutality during the Giuliani era.

Human Rights Watch has also conducted research on CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) torture and secret prisons, detentions at Guantanamo, and poor prison conditions and the mistreatment of immigrants in the United States.

Tulfo may be partly right to suggest that the Philippines’ “corrupt judiciary is responsible for the spread of criminality.” Human Rights Watch has long reported on serious problems in the country’s criminal justice system. I authored a 2007 report on bombings and beheadings by the Abu Sayyaf, which noted the judiciary’s poor record even in terrorism cases.

The solution to a broken justice system, however, is reform, not death squads, which violate not only the laws and Constitution of the Philippines but also the human values that lie at their foundation.

—JOHN SIFTON,

 Asia Advocacy director,

Human Rights Watch

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