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Maute, government forces committed HR violations ­— Amnesty International

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights violations were committed both by the Maute terrorist group and government security forces during the siege of Marawi City, a report by Amnesty International (AI) said.

In a 34-page report titled “The ‘Battle of Marawi’: Death and destruction in the Philippines,” the group claimed that civilians in Mindanao paid a high price in the battle that raged from May to October this year, with dozens killed and widespread destruction of homes and properties.

Tirana Hassan, crisis response director at AI, noted that the report is the first detailed human rights analysis of the conflict based on a research trip to Lanao del Sur in September.

The report, released before the weekend, also documented how Islamic State (IS)-allied terrorists targeted Christian civilians for the worst of the abuses that include at least 25 extrajudicial killings, mass hostage-taking and extensive looting.

“Philippine armed forces detained and ill-treated fleeing civilians and also engaged in looting. Their extensive bombing of militant-held areas of Marawi city wiped out entire neighborhoods and killed civilians, highlighting the need for an investigation into its compliance with international humanitarian law,” Hassan said.

Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, Armed Forces of the Philippines spokesman, said the AFP does not tolerate looting or abuses or violations of international humanitarian law and human rights by its members.

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“The chief of staff has reiterated his strict instructions that – and I quote Gen. Leonardo Guerrero when he gave his guidance to all our troops – he will not tolerate nor condone misdeeds of our soldiers to include violations of International Humanitarian Law and human rights,” Padilla said.

He assured the public that the AFP would investigate and discipline those found guilty of violating policies and regulations.

The AI report said “Marawi’s civilian population has suffered immensely amid one of the Philippine military’s most intensive operations in decades. Displaced en masse when the fighting began in May, thousands of people are now returning to a city that has been utterly destroyed in places, where civilians have been slaughtered by militants and both sides have committed abuses.”

It added that “the IS-linked militants’ bloody, months-long siege of Marawi took a heavy toll on civilians, with Christians in particular singled out for brutal attacks, including grisly extrajudicial killings.”

AI interviewed at least 48 survivors and witnesses, with many of them describing 10 separate incidents where militants killed 25 civilians either by shooting or slitting their throats.

They also told AI of how militants captured a large number of civilians, turning them into hostages and subjecting them to forced labor or used them as human shields.

In some instances, the report pointed out, members of the Philippine military treated civilians, including seven construction workers interviewed by AI after escaping the militant-controlled areas, with suspicion and had them detained or tortured among other ill treatments.

“One of the construction workers, a man in his 40s, was shot at by militants on his first attempt to escape Marawi city, an attack which he believes killed three of his colleagues. On the second attempt, he and his companions were crossing a bridge to flee the militant-controlled area of the city when Philippine Marines confronted and detained them,” the AI report related one of the testimonies.

“Although the vast majority of civilians fled Marawi city in the first week of the conflict, hundreds or possibly even thousands remained trapped inside amid the ongoing fighting. On May 29, the United Nations reported that 2,300 people remained in the city, dropping to fewer than 300 by late August, as many had managed to escape by then,” the report added.               

AI claimed that many of those trapped for a long time “were workers who were living in a state of fear, at risk of being found by militants and hit by bombs or bullets.”

Hassan said “Philippine authorities must bring those responsible for torture and other violations to justice and ensure that the victims receive adequate reparations. They must also initiate a prompt, effective and impartial investigation into whether its bombing of civilian neighborhoods was proportional under international humanitarian law.

“The Philippine authorities seem to be responding to concerns about looting by members of the security forces, with investigations and charges under way. They must also follow through on promises of compensation,” she added.

Padilla promised to answer the AI report once the AFP receives an official copy.

He branded the alleged abuses as “isolated” cases while taking note of a viral video that showed an arrested terrorist tortured by soldiers. He pointed out that the video also showed some soldiers asking their colleagues to stop the physical abuse.

The spokesman stressed that the AFP was addressing many challenges during the conflict, including the rescue of at least 1,780 civilians.

“And the proportionality by which we used force was in consideration of all the challenges that we faced, which is one, the safety of civilians who may be trapped in the area. That’s primordial. The rescue of the civilians who were held hostage, second; and only third is the safety of our own troops who were in the main battle area addressing these armed groups,” Padilla said.

While the AI asked their comment on the matter, Padilla said the proper protocols needed to be followed through the official channels before the AFP can give an official reply.

“But our commitment to the respect of human rights and abidance of international humanitarian law cannot be overemphasized by the accomplishments of our troops in the Marawi siege,” Padilla stressed. – Christina Mendez

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