London-based Amnesty International said that the extension of martial law until Dec. 31, 2018 could mean more human rights abuses in the coming months. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

Amnesty: Martial law extension signals more rights abuses in Mindanao
Audrey Morallo (philstar.com) - December 14, 2017 - 1:42pm

MANILA, Philippines — An international rights group blasted on Thursday the extension of military rule in Mindanao for another year, saying that the decision is an "ominous move" that signals more human rights abuses in the coming months.

The Congress, dominated by allies of firebrand President Rodrigo Duterte, granted the leader's request to extend for the second time the prevailing martial law in Mindanao until Dec. 31, 2018.

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives gave their imprimatur for the move, which the president said was needed to address the threat of terrorism and rebellion in many parts of Mindanao, a southern island which is home to around 22 million people.

READ: Kabataan rep: Martial law extension 'free pass for rights violations'

However, Amnesty International said that the extension could mean more human rights violations which were already recorded during the months-long battle of Marawi City which killed more than 1,000 people, most of whom combatants, and displaced hundreds of thousands of residents.

"The length of this latest extension, until the end of 2018, is an ominous move that almost certainly signals further abuses in the months ahead," James Gomez, Amnesty International's Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said.

He said that since military rule was declared in the region civilians in Mindanao had faced unlawful killings, destruction of their homes, ill-treatment and numerous other human rights abuses at the hands of the Philippine military and Islamic State-inspired militants.

READ: MAT: Martial law extension a danger to human rights, democracy

In a report on the siege of Marawi released last month, Amnesty said that both the Armed Forces and the Islamist fighters committed violations of international humanitarian law, some of which could amount to war crimes.

Amnesty accused the military of using torture and ill-treatment of people in their custody especially those who were trying to escape the fighting.

The militants meanwhile, according to the London-based group, committed numerous extrajudicial executions of non-Muslim residents, especially at checkpoints.

Both the military and the militants were accused of looting the deserted property of the residents. Military officials admitted in the past that some of their personnel were caught stealing and said that some had already been charged.

Amnesty said: “Violations in the battle of Marawi, in northern Mindanao, have been carried out with impunity, while there has been a disturbing rise in killings of human rights defenders and political activists across the region in recent months."

READ: Lorenzana: Rebellion still active elsewhere in Mindanao

The group said that Duterte, already accused of orchestrating a brutal anti-drugs campaign which killed between 7,000 to 12,000 people, should not use martial law as a "pretext for further violations" in Mindanao without any accountability.

It also called on authorities to take concrete steps to end violations, address those which had already taken place and prevent them from recurring.

Duterte first placed Mindanao under military rule on May 23 following an attempt by militants to transform the lakeside town of Marawi into the center of the Islamic State's caliphate in Southeast Asia.

READ: ‘Martial law not meant to defer barangay, local elections,’ DND chief says

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