Int'l lawyers rush aid for Mary Jane Veloso

By Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Apr 10 2015 02:24 PM | Updated as of Apr 11 2015 12:16 AM

Mary Jane Fiesta Veloso. Photo by Suryo Wibowo, AFP

MANILA - The International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL) has asked Indonesian President Joko Widodo to overturn the death sentence of Filipino migrant worker Mary Jane Veloso.

IADL President Jeanne Mirrer urged Widodo to take into account the mitigating factors in Veloso’s case, including reports that she had been deprived of the right to a fair trial and adequate legal representation.

“We are gravely concerned about her case because of the numerous reported violations of the Veloso’s human rights, including the right to a fair trial and due process as guaranteed under both domestic and international law,” Mirrer said in the letter dated April 9, 2015.

“IADL understands that Ms. Veloso was forced by economic circumstance to seek work outside of her country. Her intention was not to smuggle heroin into Indonesia. She only found out that was used to smuggle the contraband after arrival and arrest. Her sole intention was to find employment but fell victim to drug traffickers.

“IADL further understands that Ms. Veloso did not receive sufficient legal services or the right to translators, and had no legal representation at all stages of her trials.

“We hope that the Government of Indonesia and its Courts will carefully consider this letter and other evidence put before it in respect of these violations.”

The lawyers’ group, the first non-government organization accredited by the United Nations, reminded Widodo that execution is “final, irreversible, and engages the most fundamental of all human rights, namely, the right to life.”

It said focusing on the category of the offence rather than the individual circumstances of the offender is “arbitrary, disproportionate and contrary to the basic norms of due process.”

IADL said: “Central to the principle of an individualized sentencing is the consideration of mitigating evidence. The evolving standards concerning the application of the death penalty under Indonesian law, domestic laws of foreign jurisdictions, as well as the practice of international and regional bodies no longer allow for the imposition of a death sentence without consideration of mitigating circumstances.”

MITIGATING CIRCUMSTANCE

IADL’s legal brief, contained in its letter to Widodo, said a mitigating circumstance does not bear on the question of guilt.

It is, however, considered in sentencing to lessen the severity of a penalty, the group emphasized.

“Not to do so would violate an individual’s right to not be arbitrarily deprived of one’s life, to be free from inhuman and degrading punishment, to a fair trial, and to access to justice," the lawyers’ group stressed.

The need for individualized sentencing in every capital case, resulting in a just and proportionate sentence, “is inherent in any functioning criminal justice system,” it added.

“As noted above, Ms. Veloso was forced by economic circumstance to seek work outside of her country. Her intention was not to smuggle heroin into Indonesia. She only found out that was used to smuggle the contraband after arrival and arrest. Her sole intention was to find employment. Ms. Veloso did not receive sufficient legal services or the right to translators, and had no legal representation at all stages of their trials.”

The group also said international human rights bodies and agencies within the UN system see drug-related offences outside the scope of the “most serious crimes” for which the death penalty may be imposed. It cited published positions by the UN Human Rights Committee, the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, and UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

DFA ASKED TO TURN OVER CASE FILES

The letter, dated April 9, followed moves by the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) of the Philippines to help Veloso’s family seek a new review of her case.

The NUPL has written the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) to furnish them with Veloso’s case files, including a 2010 handwritten account of her ordeal under Indonesian authorities. According to NUPL secretary-general Edre Olalia, the Philippine Embassy in Indonesia has custody of Veloso’s personal account.

Meanwhile, religious and human rights organizations, and advocates of migrant workers rights, launched a campaign to press Widodo into examining the case of Veloso. See HOW YOU CAN HELP SAVE MARY JANE here.

They have also called on the government of President Benigno Aquino III to safeguard Veloso’s family, reportedly under threat from the narcotics smugglers who duped the migrant worker.

At the same time, the militant migrant group, Migrante, also sought a probe into why Mr. Aquino’s government has chalked up the biggest number of overseas Filipinos falling to state executions since the start of the workers’ exodus in the 1970s.

If her execution pushes through, Veloso will be the eighth Filipino to be executed by a foreign state under Mr. Aquino’s rule, says Migrante Worldwide, 122 other Filipinos face the death penalty.

The leftist underground umbrella, the National Democratic Front (NDF) also took up the Veloso family’s appeal for help and said it had asked Indonesian allies to mobilize and stage mass actions to focus attention on her case.