A team of European Union (EU) experts has begun a 10-day mission to the Philippines to help the country solve extra-judicial killings that have claimed as many as 800 lives since 2001. There has been strong international condemnation of the killings, but they continue. Douglas Bakshian reports from Manila
The EU mission is being undertaken at the request of the Philippine government. The purpose is not to probe the killings, but to find ways in which the EU can provide technical assistance to help the government investigate and prosecute the crimes.
This could include establishing special courts, training judges and prosecutors and strengthening witness protection programs.
The killings have been widely condemned by human rights groups in the Philippines as well as global organizations including the United Nations and Amnesty International. But Alistair MacDonald, the chief EU representative to the Philippines, says no effective action has been taken.
"The point is that the killings have continued," he said. "The point is that the number of prosecutions, in particular the number of prosecutions which have concluded with a conviction, are relatively small."
The EU investigators include a German diplomat and prosecutor, a British prosecutor and expert in international cooperation, a Swedish police officer, and a Finnish professor of international humanitarian law. These are widely experienced individuals who have worked in other international hotspots including Sri Lanka, Rwanda, Lebanon, and Serbia.
The Philippine human rights group Karapatan says more than 800 people have died in extra-judicial killings since 2001, when President Gloria Arroyo took office. Most of the victims belonged to leftist groups that the military says are fronts for the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People's Army (NPA), which are on U.S. and EU terrorist lists. Ambassador MacDonald says, even though the groups are on such lists, it does not mean their members can be killed indiscriminately.
"Inclusion on the terrorist list is not in any standards, in any societies, under any circumstances, an excuse to go and kill people," he said. "So whether or not the CPP and the NPA are included in the terrorist list is not in itself a target pinned on their back authorizing some forces in the country to go out and kill them without the benefit of due process."
A panel created by President Arroyo to investigate the killings has issued a report saying elements of the military were involved but not the whole military establishment. The military has denied any direct role in the killings and says soldiers found guilty of such actions will face the full force of the law.