Manila: Human Rights Watch has called on the government to look into reports of abuses allegedly committed by the police and military against suspects behind the recent violence in Zamboanga City.
In a statement, the rights watchdog said they received information that suspected members of a recalcitrant faction of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) led by Nur Misuari, had been beaten and mistreated by arresting security forces before they were interned at the San Ramon Prison and Penal Farm, a government prison facility on the outskirts of Zamboanga City.
“The Philippines government should promptly investigate all credible accounts of detainee mistreatment, take appropriate action to stop it, and punish those responsible,” Brad Adams, Asia director of the Human Rights Watch said.
“The Philippines security forces’ past record of detainee abuse demands that authorities be doubly vigilant in Zamboanga,” he added.
He said that Human Rights Watch “received reports from several knowledgeable sources of beatings and other mistreatment of suspected MNLF rebels in detention.”
“Because Human Rights Watch has not been granted access to detention facilities, we have been unable to corroborate these accounts or investigate the extent of the problem,” it said.
The victims of abuse include a 77-year-old man who accused soldiers of manhandling him and kicking him while alleging him of being a member of the Misuari-led MNLF faction.
Three boys — one aged 17 and the others aged 15 — said they had been detained on suspicion that they were Misuari’s followers.
“The three showed Human Rights Watch cuts and bruises that they said were from mistreatment. The three denied that they were MNLF rebels, but said that MNLF rebels forced them to help feed hostages during the height of the fighting in Santa Barbara village, Zamboanga City. It is a violation of international law for forces to use children under 18 for any purpose,” Human Rights Watch said.
According to the rights watchdog, international law bans torture and degrading treatment of people in custody.
“Individuals apprehended by the government should be promptly brought before a judge and charged with a credible criminal offense or released. The government has an obligation to investigate those responsible for the mistreatment of people in custody and discipline or prosecute them as appropriate,” it said.
It added that the Philippines is party to several international treaties that address the issue of children and armed conflict.
It had been reported that Misuari’s forces on September 9 forcibly occupied five coastal villages in Zamboanga City while taking took dozens of residents hostage. The hostilities left 202 rebel fighters, soldiers, and civilians dead and forced nearly 120,000 people to flee their homes.
Although the government declared an end to the fighting last week, clashes continued until October 1 resulting in the destruction of more than 10,000 homes.
While the military and police have been accused of human right violations, Misuari’s group had also been similarly blamed for committing abuses.
Human Rights Watch said that it also documented several incidents of Misuari’s fighters using civilian hostages as “human shields.”
and the Philippines military attacked the rebels, causing civilian deaths and injuries.