Implementing CARHRIHL is more relevant than ever
AT GROUND LEVEL - Satur C. Ocampo (The Philippine Star) - March 17, 2018 - 12:00am

Yesterday, March 16, marked the 20th year since the signing of the Comprehensive Agreement on Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL) between the peace negotiating panels of the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP). The accord took effect upon approval by the principals of the two parties: NDFP National Council Chairperson Mariano Orosa on April 10, 1998 and GRP President Joseph E. Estrada on Aug. 7, 1998.

In January 1999, the European Parliament hailed the CARHRIHL as a “landmark”agreement and an outstanding achievement of the GRP-NDFP peace negotiations, along with the Joint Agreement on Safety and Immunity Guarantees (JASIG) signed earlier (on Feb. 24, 1995). The CARHRIHL is the first major agreement signed, out of the four-item substantive agenda of the peace talks. The other three items are: social and economic reforms, political and constitutional reforms, and cessation of hostilities and disposition of forces.

Yet, to this day, the CARHRIHL’s substantive provisions have remained unimplemented.

Among others, the agreement lists 25 instances under which the parties seek to prevent “the most serious violations” of civil and political rights and to “uphold, protect and promote the full scale of human rights and fundamental freedoms.” It calls for the investigation of the persons liable for violations and abuses of human rights and their prosecution and trial, if evidence warrants. A notable provision is: “The victims or their survivors shall be indemnified.”

Also, the accord establishes the important principle that the two parties assume separate duties and responsibilities for “upholding, protecting and promoting human rights and international humanitarian law [HR-IHL], in accordance with their respective political principles, organizations and circumstances until they shall have reached final resolution of the armed conflict.” This principle is to be similarly applied in the comprehensive agreements on the three other topics of the peace agenda.

Its implementing mechanism, the Joint Monitoring Committee (JMC), was set up in 2004 with a Joint Secretariat consisting of parallel staffs for the two parties. It has since maintained an office in Quezon City, funded by the Royal Norwegian Government, the third-party facilitator of the peace talks. Operational guidelines were completed only in January 2017, at the third round of formal negotiations under the Duterte administration. In their joint statement, the two parties agreed to “strictly comply” with the CARHRIHL.

The JMC is composed of three members chosen by the GRP panel and three by the NDFP panel, plus two representatives of human rights organizations nominated by each panel to sit as observers. The panels’ chief representatives sit as co-chairpersons. Among their duties is to receive complaints filed by the victims, their relatives or authorized representatives. Upon approval by consensus, the JMC must request the investigation of a complaint by the party concerned and for the latter to make appropriate recommendations. Also by consensus, the JMC must submit reports and recommendations on its work to the negotiating panels.

Thus far, no full investigation has been conducted on any complaint. Why?

Mandated to meet every three months or as often as the co-chairpersons deemed it necessary, the joint secretariat was impeded by the failure of the GRP, for a long time, to allow its representatives to sit down with those of the NDFP. Nonetheless, complaints continued to be filed and the NDFP side complied with its separate duty to make periodic written reports on its work.

From Aug. 7, 1998 to March 14, 2018, the JMC received a total of 6,898 complaints: 4,886 were against the government forces (AFP, PNP, CAFGUs) and 2,012, against the New People’s Army.

With President Duterte having “terminated” the GRP-NDFP peace talks in November last year and declared the Communist Party of the Philippines and the NPA as “terrorist organizations” the following month, it’s uncertain if the GRP panel will make good its commitment to implement the CARHRIHL.

 Peace advocacy groups, however, are holding on to a flickering hope that the peace talks can still be continued since the Duterte administration hasn’t sent the requisite formal notification to the NDFP that it’s terminating the JASIG. The termination of both the JASIG and the peace talks would take effect 30 days after acknowledgment of the notification. Also, the GRP panel remains intact, and the Norwegian government hasn’t withdrawn operational funding for the JMC.

 Addressing a huge gathering of peace advocates celebrating the CARHRIHL’s 20th anniversary at St. Scholastica’s College yesterday, NDFP chief negotiator Fidel V. Agcaoili said that the agreement remains binding on both parties, “regardless of the status of the peace talks.”

“The NDFP welcomes calls by peace advocates who seek the full implementation of the provisions of CARHRIHL and the continuation of peace negotiations,” Agcaoili said in a speech read for him, adding: “The NDFP is ever committed to upholding the solemn pact that is the CARHRIHL.”

Fully implementing the agreement, Agcaoil emphasized, “will significantly enable and greatly improve the atmosphere for further negotiations on basic reforms. It will rebuild the reservoir of confidence and goodwill between the two parties.” In many ways and in the long term, he added, “upholding the agreement can be a far superior test and measure of seriousness and sincerity in peace negotiations compared to short-term ceasefires.”

Affirming and popularizing the CARHRIHL, he suggested, will educate not only the forces of both parties engaged in armed conflict but the people as well. For instance, he pointed out, the agreement can provide the “basic tools and mechanisms for addressing issues such as extrajudicial killings in the drug war or martial law in Mindanao.”

Agcaoili lamented that violations of the CARHRIHL, such as the arrest of NDFP consultants, military operations in communities, and the “non-convening of the JMC” have undermined the conditions for the successful conduct of peace negotiations. Moreover, the justice department’s petition to the court to proscribe the CPP and NPA as “terrorist organizations” and inclusion of 600-plus individuals in its “terrorist list,” along with the “all-out war” and militarization of the countryside, he said, continue to undermine the prospects for resuming the peace talks.

These conditions only show that CARHRIHL is as relevant and necessary today as it was 25 years ago. It’s not too late to implement it – above all for its greater and lasting benefit to the Filipino people.

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