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United Nations human rights officials have urged the government of the Philippines to carry out a thorough investigation into the massacre and “the wholesale killing of journalists” which took place in the Maguindanao province last week.
A joint statement by Frank La Rue, the UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression and Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions called for major political reform in the country with special attention to be given to press freedom. The statement came amidst news that among the 57 people confirmed to have been killed, 30 of those are now identified as journalists. The statement said:
“The pre-meditated killing of political opponents, combined with a massive assault on the media, must be tackled at various levels that go well beyond standard murder investigations. The massacre also demands a more extensive reflection on the elite family-dominated manipulation of the political processes and the need to eliminate such practices to ensure the future of democracy in the Philippines. This will require a thorough investigation of the broader context to be undertaken by a credible and independent body.”
Both La Rue and Alston emphasized that any broader inquiry into the political system would need to focus on the ways and means of enhancing protection for journalists in the future.
Noting that “elections in the Philippines have traditionally become occasions for widespread extrajudicial executions of political opponents,” they also called on the government to immediately set up a high-level task force to identify measures to prevent future killings that could occur in the lead-up to elections.
The International Federation of Journalistes (IFJ) says 105 journalists have now died in the country since Maria Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo became president in 2001. Government officials now say 19 people are being investigated, 12 of which are relatives of the only suspect who has so far been charged, Andal Ampatuan Jr. In the past the family under suspicion have been called “valuable political allies” by President Arroyo.