Tuesday, March 24, 2009

torturous route

Last Friday, I attended a forum sponsored by the Philippine Human Rights Committee (PHRC) for the ratification and possible implementation of the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture (OPCAT). This additional protocol aims to minimize the incidence of torture by establishing a system of regular visits to jails and detention centers. These regular visits will be conducted by the Sub-Committee for the Prevention of Torture (SPT), which is an international body composed of 10 experts. The National Preventive Mechanism (NPM) will be a local body composed of independent experts. This protocol has been pending in our committee since last year. We can not do anything about it yet because we have been getting mixed signals from the "powers that be". First, they're supporting it. Then we heard in the news that they're shelving it for awhile. Last thing I heard, they're pro-ratification but they plan to defer compliance with the obligations. ano ba talaga?

First, I'd like to clarify my position that I am against torture or any kind of violence against persons. There is no sufficient justification for a person in authority to inflict pain on another for the sake of extracting information or even for the sheer fun of it. Even if they are detained or convicted, they are still people with rights. Allegedly, incidents of torture are still pervasive even if the martial law era is long gone. This is the impetus for the immediate ratification of OPCAT. Through these surprise visits from experts, torture incidents would hopefully be lessened because other people would be observing the jails and other detention centers. But is this the real solution? I do not see the added value for the NPM since we already have a local body doing that function headed by the CHR. I think it would be a mere redundancy of function and another stopgap measure. If the administration is serious with its crusade against torture (if it has any serious agenda at all besides the 2010 elections), it can and should already operate within the CAT framework which we ratified decades ago. Now, if the "powers that be" can not do that and continues to creatively make excuses for non-compliance, then I say:

Ratify OPCAT!

If only to send a clear signal to the torture perpetrators, somebody is watching!

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