Tag: Melissa Roxas

Survivor of Abduction and Torture Appeals to the UN, International Human Rights Defenders Join the Growing Efforts to Seek Justice for Melissa Roxas

Press Statement
August 26, 2011

Los Angeles, CA – Commemorating the International Day of the Disappeared, over 50 human rights activists, lawyers, law students, church, women and youth activists gathered for an internationally-sponsored press conference for the Justice for Melissa Campaign. Melissa Roxas, a torture survivor who was disappeared for six days at the hands of the Philippine military, filed an official appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Juan Mendez, to help remove roadblocks to her pursuit of justice.  Roxas filed the appeal to the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture with the support of world-renowned international human rights lawyers from the Harvard Law School International Human Rights Clinic and the law firm Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison, LLP.

An influential panel of human rights defenders spoke out with Roxas to shed light on the continuing impunity in the Philippines and call for justice for all victims of torture and disappearance worldwide. Victoria Don, Esq., Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison, LLP; Julie Gutman, Executive Director of Program for Torture Victims; Marvyn Perez, survivor of torture from Guatemala; and Rev. David Farley, Echo Park United Methodist Church, with the Justice for Melissa campaign, gave powerful messages of solidarity for the campaign to seek justice.

Many in the audience were moved to tears as they listened to Melissa share her experience as a survivor of government-sponsored abduction and torture in the Philippines. Roxas concluded her statement with a reflection on the experiences of other survivors and an invitation to help seek justice for all victims of human rights violations:

Jean Améry, an Austrian philosopher, who was detained and tortured in concentration camps, had said ‘Anyone who has suffered torture will never again be at ease with the world.’  Parts of me died when I was in that secret prison.  It has been a long road of recovery for me.  Even after two years since I was surfaced, I still have the scars and physical injuries from the torture.  And there are the invisible scars that you don’t see, memories that I have to live with forever.  But what gives me the strength to speak to you today is thinking about the many more people that remain disappeared, that continue to be tortured, and that continue to be killed.  They cannot be here with us today, and their absence fills this room and the world with a longing for justice.

While the victims and their families continue to suffer, the torturers walk free.  So how can I be at ease in the world when human rights violations and torture exist?  I hope that you will join us in the campaign to end human rights violations.  I hope you will help us in our efforts to bring the violators and torturers to justice.

Atty. Victoria Don, a member of the legal team assisting Roxas, explained the significance of Melissa’s pursuit of justice. “Ms. Roxas has actually pursued domestic remedies within the Philippines but to no avail. At this point, there is little recourse for her but to turn to international mechanisms for justice,” stated Atty. Don. “The current UN Special Rapporteur is Prof. Juan Mendez. As Special Rapporteur on Torture, he bears a specific mandate from the Human Rights Council. This mandate is to examine, monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights problems through activities including responding to individual complaints like the one Ms. Roxas has submitted.” Atty. Don and the legal team working with Melissa have called upon the Philippine government to:

1. Provide your office with copies of all records and other information pertaining to the investigation conducted by all government entities, including the AFP, CHR, the Philippine National Police and Bureau of Investigation, of Ms. Roxas’s abduction, detention, and torture;

2. Fully cooperate and ensure the full cooperation of the AFP in an investigation to determine the identity of Ms. Roxas’s torturers, including by allowing full access to Fort Magsaysay and providing copies of all relevant documents, including but not limited to entry and exit records and rosters of all AFP personnel and other persons and vehicles who entered, exited, or were present at the fort during Ms. Roxas’s abduction and in the seven days immediately preceding and following her captivity;

3. Investigate and prosecute all those responsible for Ms. Roxas’s ordeal, including any members of paramilitary groups, soldiers, military officers, and elected officials all the way up the chain of command; and,

4. Provide you an invitation to undertake a country visit to assist the government in identifying the causes of torture in cases such as Ms. Roxas’s, and to offer practical solutions to end the use of torture and other human rights abuses and ensure that the behavior of the AFP and other forces comply with international standards.

The Executive Director of the Program for Torture Victims, Julie Gutman, Esq., gave a moving message of solidarity on behalf of their organization. “I am honored to be here today to lend the full support of our human rights organization, Program for Torture Victims, to Melissa’s noble cause. She has channeled her own healing into becoming a strong spokesperson to end torture in the Philippines and throughout the world. She has also helped others who have been victims of torture to have hope to heal,” shared Gutman. Roxas sought the help of PTV two years ago when she returned home from the Philippines after being abducted and tortured. “For over 30 years, PTV has worked to rebuild the lives of torture survivors from over 65 different countries, people who have stood up for freedom, democracy and human dignity and paid a very heavy price.  We have seen firsthand the devastating consequences of state-sponsored torture in thousands of men, women and children. We are part of a critical growing global movement that seeks to banish the use of torture and today we add our voice loudly and clearly to support Melissa Roxas and all those speaking out about her shocking persecution at the hands of the Philippine military,” declared Gutman.

“Tragically, Melissa’s story is not unique. It is often those individuals like Melissa, who have the courage to stand up for the poor, to stand up for those who have no voice, that become themselves victims of torture. We must stand with Melissa and all victims of torture as we confront those who violate the most fundamental laws of human decency, we must hold them accountable. Only by doing so can we truly work without torture,” concluded Gutman.

Torture survivor, Marvyn Perez, shared his experience of abduction and torture at the hands of the government when he was just 14 years old in Guatemala. “It has been 29 years of sharing my testimony, hoping to educate others about the evil practice of disappearance and torture, which usually come together. It is sad to find out that governments around the world still practice these crimes, these crimes which are usually denied or justified in the name of national security. Hundreds, if not thousands, around the world undergo torture. Unfortunately, most of them do not survive. Melissa and I are lucky to have survived. We have a moral responsibility to speak out and to seek justice. We share with all of you our stories but our testimonies could be meaningless if we don’t seek justice. To denounce a crime is not enough. We must do everything possible to bring to justice those responsible for the crimes. That is why I am here this afternoon, to show my support for the cause of Melissa Roxas and to all the torture survivors and victims of the Philippines. I join all the efforts to seek Justice for Melissa. I hope that in the near future we can see her perpetrators facing a trial and later sent to prison because even they have a right to a fair trial. Melissa, you must know that you are not alone, that many people are willing to walk along with you,” affirmed Perez.

Pastor David Farley, of Echo Park United Methodist Church, closed the panel with a song dedicated to the disappeared and the all those seeking justice. “I think that those of us who proclaim that persons are created in the image of God and that Creator loves them and values them, have a tremendous obligation to live out that belief in solidarity with those who are having that image that they bear abused and disrespected and damaged. Those of us within the faith communities have a particular opportunity to help because we are both part of an institution that has access to levers of power that can have some kind of influence and we are present in struggling communities here and all over the world. Our presence, both in solidarity with struggling peoples and in access to those who have power over them, gives us a particular responsibility to act and to speak and to serve. And so many are. The United Methodist Church, has been strongly supportive of human rights, particularly in the Philippines and in support of Melissa and for many who have suffered torture.”

The program was concluded with a call to support Melissa Roxas and all victims of human rights violations. The Justice for Melissa Campaign has launched an on-line pledge for supporters to take and pass on to their friends and colleagues.

A copy of the Submission to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture can be found at the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School.

Co-sponsors for the Justice for Melissa Press Conference and Melissa’s Appeal to the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Torture include: BAYAN USA, Program for Torture Victims (PTV), Torture Abolition and Survivors Support Coalition International (TASSC), KARAPATAN (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights), Interfaith Communities United for Justice and Peace (ICUJP), GABRIELA USA, Habi Arts, Sisters of Gabriela Awaken, Filipino Migrant Center, San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Babae San Francisco, Anakbayan San Diego, Anakbayan Los Angeles, Anakbayan East Bay,Pinay sa Seattle, Katarungan: Center for Peace, Justice and Human Rights in the Philippines, San Francisco Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, New York Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines, Anakbayan Silicon Valley, MAIZ Movimiento de Accion, Inspirando Servicio, Dr. Lucy Burns, UCLA; Rev. Sandie Richards, United Methodist Minister.

Hundreds of Supporters Worldwide Offer Open Letter to Demand Justice for Melissa Roxas, marking May 25th a Day of Survival

Justice for Melissa Roxas Campaign
Contact: Kuusela Hilo, info@justiceformelissa.org

May 25, 2011

Hundreds of Supporters Worldwide Offer Open Letter to Demand Justice for Melissa Roxas, marking May 25th a Day of Survival

To mark the 2nd year anniversary of Melissa Roxas’s survival of enforced disappearance and torture and the international campaign to surface Melissa, hundreds of supporters have signed on to an open letter addressing Philippine President Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and the Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines.

Two years ago, an international campaign was launched to demand the immediate release of American citizen Melissa Roxas and her two colleagues, who were abducted by the military while doing community health work in Tarlac, Philippines. Because of this worldwide outcry, Roxas was returned to her family that same day. Upon Roxas’ release, it was confirmed that she was a survivor of both abduction and torture.

To this day, Roxas and her two colleagues are just a handful of living witnesses to the government-sponsored enforced disappearances and torture that continues with impunity today in the Philippines. To this day, the perpetrators responsible for this ordeal remain at large, abetted by government cover-ups by officials such as Etta Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights. More importantly, two years later, international protests, petitions and prayers continue for Melissa Roxas and all those who have suffered human rights violations at the hands of the Philippine government.  “We will never forget that day in late May two years ago when we launched the campaign to surface Melissa Roxas and her two companions. We needed an international campaign to search for Melissa and her colleagues then, and we know we need to continue our international campaign today to seek justice for what was done to Melissa and the thousands of other victims of human rights abuses by the Philippine military,” said Rhonda Ramiro of the Justice for Melissa Campaign.

Since May 19, 2011, supporters of the Justice for Melissa Campaign have been holding solidarity gatherings and protests commemorating the 6 days Melissa Roxas was held incommunicado by the Philippine military. Nationwide, BAYAN USA, a convener of the Justice for Melissa Campaign, led community gatherings and protests to demand justice for Melissa Roxas. Youth, artists, friends of Roxas and community leaders created a special two-year anniversary video in Los Angeles which debuted during an intimate gathering on May 19, 2011 at Rosewood United Methodist Church to break bread and provide bolstering support for Melissa on a day now marked as a day of survival.

Links to see the outpouring of support for Melissa Roxas can be found at: www.justiceformelissa.org
HERE to view 2nd year commemoration video of the Justice for Melissa Roxas Campaign
HERE to view a 2010 Democracy Now! interview with Melissa Roxas
Justice for Melissa to hear the AnakBayan LA Hip Hop Song tribute for Melissa
HERE to see San Francisco rally for Melissa Roxas

Melissa Roxas: “The CHR has certainly not fulfilled its duty to protect my human rights.”

CHR Resolution only serves to maintain and perpetuate impunity
Personal Statement by Melissa Roxas

It has been nearly two years since the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) started their investigation into my case of abduction and torture. They have finally come out with a resolution but one that is filled with misleading and inconsistent conclusions. Not only is it a far cry from the justice that I am seeking, but by practically absolving the Armed Forces of the Philippines of accountability, and instead give the unsubstantiated claim that the New People’s Army (NPA) was responsible, the CHR is in effect complicit with the effort of the military to cover up my abduction and torture.

At great risk to my safety, I returned to the Philippines in July of 2009, to testify about my abduction and torture before the CHR, the Court of Appeals, and the Lower House of Congress’ Committee on Human Rights. I did this because I believed it was important to bring the perpetrators, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, to justice.

As a victim of enforced disappearance and torture, for the CHR to say that what I suffered through was not torture is simply reprehensible. If the CHR purports to exist in order to protect and to investigate human rights violations, using narrow definitions and making distinctions between what is “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” and what is “torture” is disturbing. It does no good in obtaining real justice for victims of human rights violations. “Cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” is torture. By any definition, what I went through at the hands of the AFP was torture.

The CHR Resolution has incorrectly concluded that there is “insufficient evidence to pinpoint individual members of the AFP as responsible or probable perpetrators” of my abduction and torture. They go on to say that they have received “credible” information that indicate that the NPA was responsible. These conclusions are inconsistent with my testimony and presented evidence that point to the AFP as the perpetrators of my abduction and torture. It also deviates from the original leads and investigations the former CHR Chair, Leila De Lima initiated.

The CHR did not present any evidence or detail to support the claim that the NPA is responsible for my abduction and torture. The CHR did not give details as to what standard was used to verify the credibility of the informant who claims this was done by the NPA. Neither does the CHR offer any rigorous review of evidence and process of investigation to substantiate this claim.

There is a lack of due process for the CHR to come up with this conclusion. By doing this, the CHR Resolution makes it obvious that it wants to distract the investigation away from the AFP as being the real perpetrators.

In its recommendations, the CHR says it has now fulfilled its constitutional mandate and left in charge State parties–the Philippine National Police (PNP) and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI)–with the responsibility of further investigating my case. This is nothing else but cruel for the CHR to expect that I would obtain justice by putting in charge these state agents—the PNP being one of the respondents to my case in the courts. I suffered trauma and injuries from the abduction and torture by State agents. What kind of justice do I expect to get if the very institutions that are responsible for my abduction and torture are left to investigate my case?

The CHR has certainly not fulfilled its duty to protect my human rights. This resolution only serves to maintain and perpetuate impunity for the Philippine government and military who commit these heinous crimes.

US-backed P-Noy is No Champion of Human Rights

News Statement
December 10, 2010

Reference: Bernadette Ellorin, Chairperson, BAYAN USA
Email: chair@bayanusa.org

Aquino’s Non-Resolution of Philippines’ Human Rights Crisis Serves US Foreign Policy

In commemoration of the 62nd anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Filipino-Americans under the banner of BAYAN USA would like to call international attention to their disappointment in Philippine President Benigno “P-Noy” Simeon Aquino III for his failure to act decisively towards resolving the ongoing human rights crisis in the Philippines.

Rather than working to fulfill his campaign promises to the Filipino people, Aquino has spent the past 5 months prioritizing the fulfillment of his promises made to the US government and to multi-national corporate investors to further liberalize the Philippine national economy and territory to accommodate their interests.

If the first 160 days of the Aquino administration are any indicator, the Filipino people can be certain the campaign of unabated extra-judicial killings, abductions, illegal detentions, and torture of civilians throughout the country by its security forces unleashed by the previous Arroyo administration will continue under the current presidency.

Like Barack Obama, the romanticized hype over Aquino’s candidacy and electoral win are slowly being replaced by a steady flow of political doublespeak on critical issues. One of the vilest examples of this can be seen with the case of the Morong 43 healthworkers, who are now in their 10th month of illegal detention under the Philippine military’s custody. After publicly acknowledging irregularities with the raid, arrest warrant, and even so-called “evidence” gathered against the 43 last February by the Philippine National Police and Philippine military, Aquino not only essentially washed his hands of the case by leaving it to the courts to decide on their fate, he beefed up the country’s military budget by an unprecedented 81%.

Unprecedented Military Spending for Counter-Insurgency Operations

The P1.64 trillion military budget proposal of the Aquino government for 2011 is a staggeringly massive amount inclusive of $434 million granted by the US State Department via the Millennium Challenge Corporation. Per the US military’s new Counter-Insurgency (COIN) guide, this amount will be dedicated to strengthening the very structural framework responsible for country’s continuing human right crisis– the national counter-insurgency plan known as Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL).

Though touted as a campaign to end the armed rebellion in the countryside, OBL has earned the scrutiny of international human rights monitoring groups for its baseless directive of targeting progressive and outspoken people’s organizations, party-lists, advocates, institutions and even social service providers such as the Morong 43 for being so-called “communist fronts.”

Under Aquino, 22 assassinations of civilians have been added to the piling list of extra-judicial killings and there remains 393 political prisoners throughout the country. Over 300 days have passed since Aquino promised to redistribute his family’s Hacienda Luisita to its tillers. Not a single arrest has been made to answer for the thousands of documented cases of killings and abductions under the Arroyo government, including Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo herself, the perpetrators of the Maguindanao massacre, as well as the abduction and torture of Filipina-American human rights advocate Melissa Roxas by military elements.

Aquino’s decision to extend and enforce OBL, despite its many critics, aims to choke off the strong nationalist movement in the Philippines that frustrates US foreign policy interests in the region. With Aquino’s help, the US government is working towards an official re-establishment of a permanent US military presence in the country. Like Arroyo, Aquino is committed to ensuring the terrorizing Bush Doctrine principles are applied to the Philippines in order to advance US geopolitical interests in the Asia-Pacific region, key to which is an all-out war campaign to bail-out the world’s wealthiest countries and financial oligarchs from the worst economic crisis in history.

Already the US government’s hand in the military provocation of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and rivaling superpower China spells plans for a US war offensive in the region that would not only bully and advance US trade interests in the region, but necessitate a large, permanent and reliable US military station in the Philippines.

Human Rights & People’s Solidarity

With the burden of the global economic crisis breaking the backs of people both in the US and the Philippines, international solidarity between movements to hold governments accountable for increased public spending towards war and human rights violations rather than for jobs, education, healthcare, and other social services must be forged.

Since 2005, BAYAN USA has been campaigning with allies in the US to cut US military spending in the Philippines and for the withdrawal of US troops in from the region. These efforts in the US are in solidarity with those in the Philippines risking their lives everyday at the frontlines of a growing democratic movement to alleviate the Filipino people from their daily agony of poverty, landlessness, joblessness, and hunger amidst US-funded counter-insurgency and political repression.

BAYAN USA firmly believes that communities in the US play a role in the struggle for human rights in the Philippines by holding the Obama administration accountable for its actions in the Philippines, just as the Filipino people must hold the Aquino administration accountable for its broken promises and subservience to foreign dictates. The ongoing culture of impunity in the Philippines beckons the international community to support the Filipino people’s fight for justice for the victims of human rights abuses and the punishment of human rights violators unleashed by the state.

Free the Morong 43 & all Political Prisoners!
Scrap Oplan Bantay Laya!
End Impunity, Prosecute Arroyo!
US Out of the Philippines!