NZ to help on Philippines human rights
Page 1 of 2 5:00AM Tuesday May 29, 2007
New Zealand will help the Philippines improve its poor human rights record, following a wave of extra-judicial killings and questionable political detentions in that country.
Prime Minister Helen Clark announced the help - as well as police and environment agreements - during a state-visit by Philippines President Gloria Arroyo.
But while the two leaders were giving a joint Beehive press conference, Filipino unionist Dennis Maga stood outside in a cage to protest the execution-style killing of an estimated 800 left-wing activists and journalists since 2001.
Mr Maga also called for the release of prominent left-wing lawmaker Crispin Beltran who has been in custody on what his supporters say are spurious coup-plotting charges for over a year.
Inside, Helen Clark refused to condemn Mrs Arroyo's record, but said the Government was committed to providing help.
Human Rights Commissioner Rosslyn Noonan had spoken with her Philippines counterpart and the pair were looking at what form help could take.
An initial area of co-operation was likely to be support for human-rights based training for the Philippines police and military.
Several independent watchdogs, including United Nations Special Rapporteur Philip Alston have blamed the police and military as the most likely culprits for the killings.
Mrs Arroyo yesterday acknowledged her country had a problem with political killings, but said it was fighting to improve its record.
It had set up a commission with special courts to look into the killings, had allocated more money for investigators and was introducing new laws to protect witnesses.
There had already been arrests relating to the slayings, and some trials of soldiers.
"We are in a fight to turn around our history of political violence and retribution.
"Like our economic turnaround, we are slowly, surely, and steadily breaking down the cycle of violence."
She welcomed New Zealand's offer of help.
She said in the case of Mr Beltran, due process was being followed. But Mr Maga disagreed, highlighting the Inter-Parliamentary Union's criticism of his continuing detention.
In relation to the killings, Mr Maga said the Government had not gone far enough and the killings had not stopped.
Mrs Arroyo's regime was the worst in his country's history, with the political death toll - about 130 a year - worse than the 100 a year that had been killed under dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1970s and 1980s, he said.
Mr Maga, brought out to New Zealand by the National Distribution Union, will take his protest to the Regional Interfaith Dialogue today, which both leaders will attend.