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January 6, 2011: Ms. Jessica Evans and Dr. Patricio Abinales

(Click to enlarge) From left to right, Ms. Jessica Evans and Dr. Patricio Abinales discuss the latest Human Rights Watch report on state-backed militias in the southern Philippines.

State-Backed Militias and Human Rights Abuses in the Southern Philippines


(Washington, DC) Following the November 23, 2009, massacre of 58 people in Maguindanao province, attributed to the Ampatuan family and their "private army," Human Rights Watch travelled to Mindanao and investigated numerous abuses implicating the Ampatuans, including killings, torture, sexual assault and abductions. The investigation revealed that the Maguindanao massacre was not an aberration, but the foreseeable consequence of two decades of unchecked killings and other serious abuses by the Ampatuan-run army.

Jessica Evans, Philippines researcher with Human Rights Watch, shared the findings of this investigation, which can be found in the latest report, “They Own the People”: The Ampatuans, State-Backed Militias and Killings in the Southern Philippines , along with policy recommendations for the Philippines government and foreign donor governments. She explained that the impunity within the country's political and judicial systems help to perpetuate such occurrances of human rights abuses. Other systemic problems include the widespread use of para-military defense forces and easy access to weapons, which go undocumented.

Dr. Patricio N. Abinales, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars, placed these cases of abuse within the broader context of the human rights and domestic political situation in the Philippines. He noted that the lack of division between political, religious and private realms only adds to the complicated nature of holding individuals accountable for such human rights abuses.

This Asia Pacific Human Rights & Democracy Seminar was co-sponsored by Human Rights Watch.

Jessica Evans is the Philippines researcher in the Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. A lawyer, Ms. Evans worked previously as a government attorney and as the West Australian Attorney General’s Principal Legal and Policy Officer, running the law reform agenda. As a Fulbright scholar at Columbia University, she specialized in international and human rights law. Ms. Evans has researched human rights violations in the Philippines as well as the South Pacific (primarily Fiji). She has investigated various political killings in the Philippines and meets regularly with government officials to encourage them to implement systemic changes to stop such killings and hold perpetrators accountable.

Patricio N. Abinales is currently a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and is also a professor at the Center for Southeast Asian Studies, Kyoto University. A native of Mindanao, his work includes Making Mindanao: Cotabato and Davao in the Formation of the Philippine State (2000), State and Society in the Philippines , co-authored with Donna J. Amoroso (2005), and Orthodoxy and History in the Muslim Mindanao Narrative (2010). Dr. Abinales’ current research is on the peculiar success of American economic assistance in the war zones of Muslim Mindanao.