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Civil groups, NGOs challenge ASEAN members on Human Rights

The Philippines News agency

December 05, 2006

Civil groups and non-government organizations (NGOs) on Saturday challenged members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) who will have their Summit in Cebu City this month on human rights issue. Lidy Nacpil, vice president of Freedom from Debt Coalition (FDC), said the civil groups plan to hold a week of action starting from December 9, parallel to the holding of the ASEAN Summit.

She said that among the issues to be discussed during the week of action will be the crisis in East Timor, the junta in Myanmar, territorial disputes in South China Sea, and the killings in the Philippines.

"Our activities will be peaceful and creative exercises of our basic right to freedom of expression and assembly," Nacpil said.

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez earlier said no group will be allowed to hold rallies during the ASEAN leaders' three-day Summit starting on December 10.

"If they do (hold rallies), they will be arrested and thrown to the sharks," he said in a flippant remark.Various human rights groups here said they particularly want to highlight in their rallies "the deteriorating situation in the Philippines" where over 764 leftist activists have allegedly been murdered since 2001.

The government however said the reports of political killings is bloated and is part of a black propaganda campaign mounted by communist insurgents.President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo recently created the "Melo Commission" solely to investigate human rights violation in the country.

Retired Justice Jose Melo, head of the Commission, said they're in the process of conducting dialogues with the victims and relatives of victims of human rights violation.

He said they're coming up with a report to be submitted to President Macapagal Arroyo before the year ends.

The report would be based on the results of their dialogue with the victims and relatives of the victims, he added.International human rights advocates such as Amnesty International have criticized the spate of killings of activists and mediamen in the Philippines.

In their report in August, Amnesty International said that "a failure to prosecute any of the killers risks perpetuating a cycle of human rights violations.

"Failure to punish the killers sends "a message of de facto state tolerance for such practices," it added.

Dubbed as the ASEAN People's Camp and Week of Action, among the activities in the peaceful protest is a parade of some 500 fishermen on board 100 boats along the Mactan Strait in Cebu City on December 11.

The 100-boat fluvial parade is their way of showing their protest against trade and liberalization of fisheries by ASEAN member nations, Nacpil said.

Wilson Fortaleza, president of Sanlakas-Laban ng Masa, said some 30 international and local organizations would be joining the week-long protests, to be highlighted by a people's camp at the grounds of the University of the Philippines-Cebu starting on December 12.

This will be capped by a simultaneous demonstrations and rallies in Metro Manila and other ASEAN cities on December 13, he added.Exhibits, workshops, seminars, bazaars, and a concert would also take place during the people's camp, the organizers said.

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