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Amnesty International: Protect displaced families caught in Basilan crossfire

With reports of displacement during and after the clash between members of government forces from the Western Mindanao Command and Abu Sayyaf in Basilan, Amnesty International Philippines called on the Philippine government to ensure that all measures are deployed for the security of the displaced people of Tipo-tipo and surrounding areas.

“Amnesty International Philippines regrets that lives have been lost during the military operations in Basilan. Armed conflict brings not only death but it becomes a breeding ground for mass human rights violations including displacement of civilian communities. It is unacceptable that another encounter has resulted to more suffering for the people of Mindanao. It is the civilian families who are left in fear of their lives and nowhere to go,” Ritz Lee Santos III, Amnesty International Philippines Chairperson, said in a statement.

Amnesty International Philippines pointed out that civilians caught in armed conflict in Mindanao will remain vulnerable unless safety zones are declared as part of the general obligation of parties to armed conflicts to protect those not involved in the hostilities.

“International humanitarian law provides for the possibility of the government to establish safety zones away from military operations, as well as neutralized zones within areas of such operations. Both are aimed at sheltering the wounded, the sick and civilians from the effects of war. In Mindanao conflict-affected areas, it appears that there are only ‘peace zones’, but that these have not been officially declared or agreed upon,” explained Santos.

Amnesty International calls on the Department of National Defense and the local government to establish safe and neutralized zones for the protection of civilians and urges to ensure the safety and well-being of internally displaced persons, in accordance with international law and standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

“Irrespective of whether or not parties to Mindanao conflicts reach agreements on safety zones, state and non-state actors are obliged, under international humanitarian law, to avoid whenever possible conducting military operations from within or near civilian localities or establishing military camps within their vicinity,” added Santos.

Amnesty International emphasizes that under international law, the government of the Philippines has the responsibility to ensure that displaced people are protected at all times. The government has a responsibility to prevent further human rights abuses by securing civilians before or during armed conflict or hostility, not only in accordance to international laws but the AFP Rules of Engagement as well. (pr)

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