MANILA - The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Wednesday condemned the violence perpetrated by the Maute terror group and their cohorts in Marawi City, bewailing the adverse effects of war on civilians.
The commission said it especially condemned the terrorists' use of children and women as "human shields."
"This does not only go against the moral fiber of our humanity, but violates the protection of those who are not part of the conflict granted under International Humanitarian Law," the CHR said in a statement, referring to international set of rules that aim to limit the effects of armed conflict.
The Islamic State-linked Maute and the Abu Sayyaf group, backed by foreign terrorists, laid siege to Marawi City on May 23 after clashes erupted with government troops attempting to arrest senior Abu Sayyaf leader Isnilon Hapilon, known to be the Islamic State’s emir in Southeast Asia.
The violence prompted President Rodrigo Duterte to declare martial law over the entire Mindanao on the same day.
The government said that as of Monday, there had been 26 and 58 civilian and government fatalities, respectively. At least 202 suspected terrorists have been killed since the battle started, according to the military.
Continuing firefights have prompted more than 230,000 residents to flee, while hundreds are known to remain trapped in the conflict zone.
The CHR hailed the fallen state forces and expressed support for the Maranaos and other victims caught in the crossfire.
"We stand with the Maranaos and others who have been victimized in this conflict in their pleas for peace as our government forces engage and neutralize the Maute group," the CHR said.
Armed attacks similar to the rampage in Marawi have "tremendously impacted the lives of local residents," said the CHR.
"Previous experiences in conflict-stricken areas show that displaced women and children have been the most vulnerable and prone to being hit the hardest as women become target of gender-based violence, while children constantly experience physical and psychological trauma," CHR said.
The CHR, a constitutionally-mandated agency investigating all forms of human rights violations in the country, also called for action from different government agencies.
It asked the Department of Education and the Commission on Higher Education to "ensure the uninterrupted education of the affected children and young adults."
It also appealed for the Department of Social Welfare and Development (DSWD) and the Department of Health to "address the psycho-social needs of the internally displaced persons and assure their access to hospitals and other government facilities in addressing their mental health needs."
It also sought the help of the DSWD, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority, and the Department of Labor and Employment to "address the needs of displaced families for sustainable livelihood, especially for women."
"The Commission is with the nation in praying for an end to this conflict and urges the bureaucracy—both at the national and local levels—to move together towards durable solutions [for] the community and country’s recovery," the commission said.