Sultan of Marawi to testify vs. Duterte at Int’l HR Tribunal

DAVAO CITY, Philippines — A Sultan in Marawi City is set to testify before the International People’s Tribunal today in Brussels, Belgium against President Rodrigo Duterte for his alleged crimes committed against Muslims in the island of Mindanao.

Sultan Hamidullah Atar said Duterte has committed gross human rights violations, especially against Meranaws during the Marawi siege.

“He [Duterte] violated civil and political rights including serious human rights violations against my fellow Muslims during and after the Marawi siege. The human rights violations worsened when he declared Martial law in Mindanao,” Atar, a traditional Moro leader as Sultan of the Islamic City of Marawi comprising of five clans, told the Inquirer in an interview Sunday evening.

Atar is now in Brussels, Belgium where he is slated to appear at the IPT2018 on September 18 to 19.

The IPT2018 is a global court that was convened by the European Association of Lawyers for Democracy and World Human Rights, Haldane Society of Socialist Lawyers, International Association of Democratic Lawyers, and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines, among other rights groups.

Gross HRVs

Atar said the escalating human rights violations perpetrated by government troops prompted him to testify against Duterte before the so-called “global court.”

The unabated killings of Moro civilians, the destruction of private properties, the reported looting, desecration of their religious and cultural rites during and after the Marawi siege were some of the few scenarios where soldiers took part but the President gave no concrete action on all of these, he said.

“The government is responsible for the missing people, destruction of our properties, cultural and religious rites. The government should be held accountable for their acts in Marawi. They used excessive power in responding to the crisis at the expense of the IDP lives and properties,” Atar stressed.

He added: “I personally saw a military mobile loaded with furniture, aside from the received reports and complaints of widespread looting as residents in nearby municipalities of Marawi also saw military trucks loaded with appliances and furniture.”

Apart from these, Atar said the government forcefully displaced them from their properties in Marawi, when it prohibited them to return to the city after declaring that Marawi was finally liberated from terrorist groups back in October 17, 2017.

“The resident of the 24 barangays from the most affected areas with more than 27,000 families are still experiencing the pain and agony of being displaced up to date due to the policy of the government disallowing the IDPs to return to their respective homes,” he said.

Atar said the sentiments of Muslims in Mindanao against the government are growing because of these human rights violations. He added that to publicly condemn these atrocious acts might subject any person to threats and harassments because of Martial law.

“We know the fact that Martial law silenced the people who experienced these various human rights violations especially in Marawi in which anyone who wanted to file a case against the military’s role in Mindanao and in Marawi, in particular might be threatened and harassed,” Atar said.

Bypassing traditional, religious leaders

On May 23 2017, the siege broke out in the Islamic City of Marawi between armed fighters from two ISIS- affiliated groups: the Abu Sayyaf and the Maute after the Philippine National Police- Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (PNP-CIDG) in Cotabato had attempted to serve a warrant of arrest against high-ranking commander of the ISIS-inspired groups, Isnilon Hapilon in Barangay Basak Malutlut in Marawi City.

“At that time, the radical groups were conducting their spiritual cleansing activities which were disrupted by the act of serving the warrant of arrest by the police and other government security forces,” he said.

When the siege happened, Atar said, he was expecting that the national government would allow the traditional and religious leaders to step in and conduct mediation.

“Historically and considering the homogeneous nature of the Maranaos in Marawi, all feuds in the past have been resolved in the traditional way,” he said.

But when Duterte declared Martial Law in Mindanao on May 23, he was caught by surprise. “I was surprised when Duterte unilaterally declared martial law all over Mindanao, bypassing the traditional system and the religious leaders of Marawi City.”

For Atar, the Martial law in Mindanao violated the principles of proportionality in International Humanitarian Law, saying “it paved the way for the destruction of our cultural sites and worship areas with the bombing of at least 37 mosques and 44 Madrasah facilities and 22 schools.”

“I would like to emphasize that at the time the siege broke out, the members of the radical groups were conducting spiritual activities in their community with their families. Hence, their women relatives and children became ‘collateral damage’ of the siege, a situation which could have been avoided had there been space for negotiation,” he stressed.

Militarization

When asked if the response of the government to the Marawi siege was appropriate, Atar said “militarization” should never be the solution to end the so-called terrorism in Mindanao.

“Historically, militarization is not the solution to lessen the existence of armed groups in Mindanao. A war without limits is a war without end. The government should look at the root causes of problem in Mindanao including historical injustice, poor social services, marginalization, oppression and other social ills before using military might,” he said.

“We have to take note that the poverty incidence in our province and our region in Moro areas is the highest in the country, which needs to be resolved rather than radicalization, The push and pull factor for the radicalization should be addressed first. Definitely, not only because security sectors always abuse their power,” he added.

PH justice system fails

For him, the IPT is the best venue to hear their sentiments and grievances after Duterte disregarded the demands of the internally displaced persons and address their redress.

“We no longer trust in our justice system in the Philippines. And we expect that IPT would pro-actively convince the international community to help the people in Mindanao and in Marawi to support our quest for justice, reparation and right to be informed because in the past 16 months, the government never attempted to investigate what transpired in Marawi,” Atar said.

He said the decision of the tribunal will be submitted to the International Criminal Court (ICC), the European Parliament, and the United Nations Human Rights Council as a case against the Duterte administration.

Apart from Atar, Suara Bangasamoro Chairperson Jerome Succor Aba will also testify on the charges regarding religious discrimination, arbitrary detention and torture committed against him by agents of US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and US Customs and Border Patrol (CBP).

Aba said he would also bring up the massacre of seven Tausug youths on September 14, 2018 in Patikul, Sulu. State military forces were allegedly behind the massacre.