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New Philippines Law Criminalizes Official Abductions

Mother of missing student activist Karen, speaks in front of a photo mosaic of Philippine President Benigno Aquino III during a rally to commemorate International Day of the Disappeared in Manila, Philippines, August 30, 2012.
The Philippines now has a law that bans abductions carried out by government forces, a practice known as enforced disappearances.

Under the new law, anyone convicted of carrying out enforced disappearances can be sentenced to life in prison without parole. The law also prohibits the use of secret detention facilities, and bans the military from using a list of suspected communist insurgents to justify holding people indefinitely.

The law, signed last week by President Benigno Aquino, is the first of its kind to be enacted in Asia. Human Rights Watch official Carlos Conde told VOA the new law could potentially bring an end to the practice throughout the region.

"If you look for instance the recent abduction of one social activist in Laos, that's a concern obviously of other countries such as Bangladesh and South Asian countries there are these things happening that are really cause for concern. In the Philippines it is still happening even as we speak, and we think mainly because the government has been quite ineffective in using current law to go after state security forces, and also for the past how many decades the Marcos dictatorship," Conde stated. " The succeeding presidents have not been giving this problem the attention that they deserve. And that is, I think, a credit to the Aquino administration that finally they've taken notice of the problem."

Human rights groups say thousands of Philippines political activists have disappeared since 1972, beginning under the dictatorship of President Ferdinand Marcos.