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Amnesty International Says Displaced Civilians in the Philippines Still at Risk and Face Uncertainty Despite Mindanao Ceasefire

Human Rights Organization States That Thousands of Civilians Unable to Return Home Despite Ceasefire

WASHINGTON - More than 200,000 civilians
in central Mindanao are still vulnerable to abuses despite the recent ceasefire
between the Philippine army and the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front
(MILF), warns Amnesty International in a new report published today.

The new report, Philippines: Shattered
lives, beyond the 2008 - 2009 Mindanao armed conflict
, details the
risks that hundreds of thousands of people face as they are forced to live
in camps or makeshift shelters, sometimes surrounded by a heavy military
presence. Many of the displaced are still unable to return to their homes
following the implementation of a ceasefire on July 29, 2009.

"The vulnerability and uncertainty which
civilians in central Mindanao face makes it imperative that the government
and the MILF put human rights at the top of their agenda during future
peace talks," said Donna Guest, Amnesty International's Asia Pacific
Deputy Director.
The report, based on an Amnesty International
mission to Mindanao and detailed field updates,  
highlights the desperate conditions of civilians
living in crowded camps with limited access to food and livelihoods. The
report also provides information about human rights abuses by both the
army and the MILF against villagers in Maguindanao province, central Mindanao.

In one such case, during January 2009 a large
group of soldiers entered Ungap village, Sultan Kudarat Municipality and
arrested 10 men there.  The soldiers forced their way into houses,
pointing their guns and destroying villagers' belongings. One villager
told Amnesty International that the detained men, including her husband,
were later given electric shocks; nine were released but her husband remains
in detention. According to another family member, his interrogators questioned
him over a 10 week period while administering electric shocks and beating

Many displaced people told Amnesty International
that they were forced to risk their lives and return to their former homes
to retrieve belongings and tend their crops in order to survive. Other
testimonies provided details about arbitrary arrests and severe beatings
of civilians at the hands of the Philippine army, the MILF, or local militias.

"Decades of conflict have inflicted scars
on the civilians, who continue to live in fear, not knowing what tomorrow
holds," said Guest. "The recent ceasefire agreement has raised their
hopes, so the burden is now on the government and the MILF to demonstrate
that they are sincere in prioritizing the well-being of the local population."

"The government of the Philippines is obliged
under international law to ensure that displaced people are protected and
have proper access to adequate food, water and medical assistance."


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Amnesty International also calls on both
the Philippine authorities and the MILF to ensure the safety and well-being
of all civilians. Where there are credible allegations of human rights
abuses, the government should launch a swift and impartial investigation
into the allegations and make the findings public. The MILF should cooperate
with the government in facilitating such investigations.

The government should also implement, in
cooperation with the displaced persons, a plan for the safe and voluntary
return to their villages, including the provision of adequate food, housing
and livelihoods upon resettlement.


Conflict in Mindanao between the Philippine
army and the MILF intensified in August 2008 after a temporary restraining
order on the Memorandum of Agreement on Ancestral Domain (MOA-AD) was issued
by the Supreme Court. The document had been designed to pave the way to
peace, by expanding the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao. In October
the Court ruled that the MOA-AD was unconstitutional. Fighting continued
sporadically until a ceasefire agreement was reached in July 2009. Over
700,000 people in total were displaced during the year long conflict.

In the early 1970s, a full-scale armed conflict
erupted between the Philippine government and the Moro National Liberation
Front (MNLF). In 1978, the MILF broke away from the MNLF, with which the
government subsequently signed a peace agreement in 1996. Fighting broke
out intermittently between the army and the MILF, as attempts at peace
negotiations also continued.  On July 29, 2009, in the Malaysian capital
of Kuala Lumpur, the Philippine government and the MILF agreed to suspend
military operations and work to establish a protection mechanism for civilians.
Further talks between the two parties have yet to resume.

Amnesty International is a Nobel Peace Prize-winning
grassroots activist organization with more than 2.2 million supporters,
activists and volunteers in more than 150 countries campaigning for human
rights worldwide. The organization investigates and exposes abuses, educates
and mobilizes the public, and works to protect people wherever justice,
freedom, truth and dignity are denied.


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