Gov't forces committed abuses in Marawi war: Amnesty International

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 17 2017 07:28 PM | Updated as of Nov 18 2017 12:18 AM

The main battle area in Marawi City after 5 months of firefights between Maute terrorists and government troops. Fernando Sepe Jr., ABS-CBN News

MANILA - Islamic State-inspired extremists and government forces both violated international humanitarian law and international human rights law during the battle of Marawi, rights group Amnesty International said Friday.

Civilians in Mindanao "paid a high price with dozens killed and widespread destruction of homes and property" in the months-long war, the group said in a report entitled "‘Battle of Marawi’: Death and destruction in the Philippines."

"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," said Tirana Hassan, Crisis Response Director at Amnesty International.

The military has requested the international rights watchdog to convey their report to the Department of Foreign Affairs or the Philippine post in New York for an official comment, said spokesman Maj. Gen. Restituto Padilla.

"We have told them that we are committed to respecting international humanitarian law and respecting human rights," he told reporters at Malacañang.

Armed Forces of the Philippines, Chief of Staff Leonardo Guerrero has also said that "he will not tolerate or condone misdeeds of our soldiers to include violations of IHL and human rights," said Padilla.

"We will investigate and discipline those found guilty of violating policies and regulations, which includes IHL and HR," he said.

Padilla said they will officially answer the Amnesty International report once they get a copy.

"Be that as it may, our Chief of Staff has mentioned that our actions in the Marawi conflict were guided by the rules of conflict, which provides for the necessity and proportionality in the use of force," he said.

'ILL TREATMENT' BY GOVERNMENT FORCES

State forces violated the prohibition of torture and other ill-treatment of people in their custody, often carried out against civilians who were escaping from Marawi City and were seeking the protection of the military, claimed Amnesty International.

"Members of the armed forces detained numerous people and accused them, without evidence, of being militants. Detainees were allegedly then subjected to various forms of ill-treatment including sustained beatings and threats of execution," their report said.

Amnesty International interviewed 8 "victims" of such abuse at the hands of the armed forces, 7 being Christian construction workers who was trapped in Marawi City because they feared being captured or killed by militants if they tried to escape. 

The group added, state troopers also detained another escaped civilian who was severely beaten, had the butt of a rifle smashed on his hands and back, and had burning-hot liquid poured all over his body. The pain eventually caused him to pass out and he was later handed over to the Red Cross. 

“The Philippine authorities must bring those responsible for torture and other violations to justice and ensure that the victims receive adequate reparations," said Hassan.

Structures left in ruins inside Marawi's main battle area after the 5-month long siege. Fernando Sepe, Jr. ABS-CBN News

The report also noted that 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.

Many of the civilians trapped were workers who were "living in a state of fear," at risk of being found by militants and hit by bombs or bullets.

The watchdog also interviewed civilians in connection to allegations of "widespread looting" during the crisis, which they said "are potentially violations of the rules prohibiting pillage in non-international armed conflict, under customary international law, international criminal law, and Philippine military regulations."

Through 12 interviews, Amnesty International documented 25 unlawful deaths by militants and 10 by aerial bombardment, for a total of 35 deaths. 

"The government needs to publicly clarify how targeting decisions were made, and what role the presence of civilians and civilian infrastructure in the targeted areas played in the decision," the report said.

"Civilians have questioned the necessity of the extent of the damage to the city, and civil society organizations are planning to file a class action suit against the government for its role in the destruction of property and deaths of civilians," it added.

It noted that President Rodrigo Duterte has stated that he would welcome such a suit, and that he takes full responsibility for what has taken place in Marawi.

Responding to the inclusion of their aerial bombing in the report, Padilla said the armed forces addressed "so many challenges in the main battle area," highlighting instead that 1,780 civilians were rescued by their efforts. 

"The proportionality by which we used force was in consideration of all the challenges that we faced," he said.

ABUSES OF THE MILITANTS

Hassan said the siege took a heavy toll on civilians, with Christians singled out for brutal attacks.

The group interviewed 48 war survivors, and several of them described 10 separate incidents where militants killed about 25 civilians, most of them Christians or were trying to flee to safety.

"It is a war crime to murder civilians," said Amnesty International.

Their report said the extremists usually performed the killings "with a pistol, a rifle, or by cutting the victim’s throat."

"Most victims were shot and killed immediately after being questioned by the militants. Most victims were shot and killed while standing or kneeling on the ground; some were shot and killed while running away," it said.

Survivors and witnesses also described to the rights group how militants subjected hostages to forced labor.

At least one hostage was summarily executed, and many were physically abused, added Amnesty International.

- Trishia Billones, ABS-CBN News

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