High-level task force vs EJKs eyed

Justice Secretary Leila de Lima plans to propose the establishment of a high-level interagency task force in a bid to solve unsolved cases of extra-judicial killings

Justice Secretary Leila De Lima shares with representatives of human rights groups the measures being undertaken by the Philippine Government to address the cases of extra-judicial and other killings that have been brought to its attention during a meeting at the Philippine Embassy in Washington, D.C. on Monday, 24 September 2012. Ambassador Jose L. Cuisia Jr. invited the human rights groups to the meeting to convey the commitment of the Philippine Government in prosecuting those involved in human rights violations in the Philippines.   (Photo by Francisco Baraan, Department of Justice)

MANILA, Philippines – Justice Secretary Leila de Lima plans to propose the establishment of a high-level interagency task force in a bid to solve unsolved cases of extra-judicial killings (EJKs).

De Lima said she will propose the said task force to President Aquino, which will “focus especially on the cold cases of extra-judicial killings and try to come up with a list of all cases with high chances of successful prosecution.”

The said task force, the Justice chief said, will be on top of other task forces already existing that are handling EJKs and other human rights violations.

“Perhaps if there is an imprimatur from the President and we have all the right people who are committed, dedicated to do it, we can have accomplishments in the coming three years and yes we have a long way to go in addressing those past killings,” she said.

She made the announcement at the Philippine Conference in Washington DC, an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies and the US-Philippines Society, the Philippine Embassy in Washington said in a statement Thursday, September 27.

Also at the dialogue was Philippine Ambassador to the US Jose L Cuisia Jr, and human rights advocates. Her announcement was a response to a question from John Sifton of Human Rights Watch.

Lower EJK numbers

At the dialogue, De Lima said the number of EJKs are on the decline.

“All the few cases that have been occurred since July 2010 or the start of current administration have been immediately investigated and therefore are under various stages of the legal process. Some are under preliminary investigation. Some are under trial,” De Lima said at the dialogue.

Despite this, human rights groups in attendance said the Philippine government should do more in addressing the issue, including continued prosecution of cases from past administrations.

De Lima said it is a “real challenge” to “start from scratch” on many cases, owing to the failure of the previous administration to “adequately investigate” these.

She also said that EJKs are harder to detect and solve because those involved in the cases usually have the power to suppress evidence and testimonies.

“That is especially true for cold cases that occurred during the previous administration, where co-conspirators have demonstrated the extreme lengths they are willing to go to just to hide their crimes, and their practices were not only tolerated, but in fact encouraged and rewarded in order to silence political dissent,” De Lima said.

“Be that as it may, the most demonstrably effective measure taken by the present administration is in preventing human rights violation cases from being committed at the hands of state agents,” she said.

She assured the groups that human rights awareness is now part of training in the military and the police, and that Human Rights Affairs Offices are now established in the Armed Forces and the Philippine National Police.

She also added that both public and private sectors are now more involved in discussing the issue. – Rappler.com

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