THE MANIPULATIVE USE
OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS
A Message of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines
Then God said: “And now we will make human beings; they will be like us and resemble us” … So God created human beings, making them to be like himself. (Gen. 1, 26-27)
Human dignity and the rights flowing from it have always been of paramount concern in our Judeo-Christian tradition. The Holy Father, John Paul II, has been insistent that this concern should mark the modern Church’s approach to its involvement in social questions (cf. Redemptor Hominis and Sollicitudo Rei Socialis especially). The basis of this concern, needless to remind ourselves, is the simple truth of our creation unto the image of God and our redemption by His Son, Jesus the Lord.
In the Philippines today, the incidence of human rights violations has escalated in areas where the Military and the NPA (and other rebel groups like the MNLF, etc.) are fighting for control. And it is innocent civilians, who, needless to say, are subjected most to the abuse of rights by both sides in the conflict. The situation is most deplorable. And we cannot deplore it enough.
But even more deplorable, to our way of thinking, is a development–hardly recognized generally as an evil, we are afraid –in the way human rights abuses are talked about and reported. To give it a name, we call that evil “the manipulative use of human rights violations.”
Thus, each time that “massacres” of civilians take place (Mendiola, Lupao, Paombong come to mind), inevitably such killings are trumpeted here and abroad as incontrovertible proof that nothing has changed in regard to the government’s already dismal record on human rights violations. Now, after the discovery of the mass graves of Quezon and the more recent slaughter of a Church community in Davao del Sur, the very charges that are liberally hurled against the military and government are now turned against the CPP-NPA, the NDF and their allied groups.
What this means simply is that the issue of human rights and their continuing violations have become a political and ideological –not, as it should be, a human and moral–concern, and it is this particular development that we in the CBCP would like to address in this statement.
e find it most distressing that the killing of innocent people and other violations of human rights are actually cause for rejoicing. This is putting it too strongly, perhaps, but we fear it is equivalently what is happening today in the Philippines when one or other political group positively gloats over massacres or cases of tortures, etc. When these are perpetrated by an opposing group and its crime is treated as only one more piece of propaganda ammunition to be used to destroy its credibility before the bar of public opinion.
This is what we mean by “the manipulative use of human rights violations”; the reprobation and publicizing by one political bloc of violations of human rights not specifically to put a stop to them (despite the rhetoric) but merely to blacken the political image of the other. This is using the misfortune of others–the victim, that is, of human rights abuse–to one’s narrow advantage. This is putting the suffering of the people secondary to what political and ideological mileage can be gotten from it.
Over the past three years, we have had ample evidence of this kind of treatment of human rights issues in one sided reporting of violations. All too often, the crimes of the military are played up extravagantly and similar crimes by the NPA are either passed over in silence or muted down or explained away–and vice versa.
It is for this reason that we have been insistent on the condemnation of all transgressions against human rights whether they are committed by the military and government or by the CPP-NPA or by any other power in our society.
It is for this reason too that we have been wary of peace groups or peace councils that have an eye open for the peace-destroying aggression of only one side in the conflict currently raging in the country, but close the other eye to the violence of the group they “sympathize with”. Again, the problem is the use of peace, of people sincerely committed to peace, to further one’s political agenda.
Neither peace nor human rights are the real objectives–power and political advantage are. And people and their violated rights or their efforts at peace are simply means for the protection or furtherance of power and advantage.
From the point of view of the Gospel, the instrumentalizing for sheerly political ends of an evil like violations of human rights and the suffering that comes from them, is something that we Christians cannot but reject in the harshest terms. So too, to be rejected is the similar instrumentalizing of a good like peace and the cessation of hostilities that it advocates.
We condemn such a cynical use of human rights and peace efforts. But even more strongly, we condemn the very violations of human rights and the violence that spawns them. But as in our separate statement on graft and corruption, we should not just condemn. We must act — and act to prevent the very evil, to promote the very good, that we say are being used as mere political fodder.
Last year, we asked how we the people can put a stop to the suicidal fighting going on between the military and the NPA — a fighting between brothers. We still ask the question and we ask it too in regard to the human rights violations which are done in the name of the conflict, as a result of its violence.
Some answers have been tentatively put forth in a number of places in the country over the past year. They are responses of hope, and from them we glean three suggestions that we now propose for further deliberation and action.
The first concerns an open, publicly announced repudiation, by our Church communities and organizations, of violence as a way to peace and justice whether the violence be that of the military or the NPA or any other power group. The absence of peace, the continuing violations of human rights in conflict areas, are proximately due to their violence. The gelling of public opinion against violence may seem like a small thing but its power to constrain soldiers and rebels from uncontrolled violence should not be under-estimated.
The second is the even-handed reporting of cases of violations of human rights. We do not subscribe to the definition of human rights abuses as only those committed by the States against its citizens. Acts of arbitrary killing (“salvaging” or “liquidation”), torture, detention without trial, etc. are all crimes against the basic rights of people and must be treated as such. Half truths, selective truths, manipulated truths–these are unworthy of anyone truly concerned with human rights.
The third is the fostering and supporting of genuine peace initiatives, uncolored and uncorrupted by any political agenda, overt and covert, and geared only toward achieving real peace. For these to succeed, men and women truly dedicated to the pursuit of justice and peace must come together, stand together in an organized way, and even as they work together have a real care that they do not themselves lose their right not to be pawns of political blocs.
On our part as Bishops, we will try to make our social action centers and programs more responsive to the demands of peace-making and the promotion of human rights. We put the resources we have at the service of those demands, impelled by the Gospel of unity and love. And we invite all, our youth especially, to act seriously on the three suggestions we have made above or on any similarly Gospel-inspired initiative for peace and human dignity.
The Lord of Peace bless us all in our struggling for the justice of His Kingdom.
For the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines:
(Sgd.)+LEONARDO Z. LEGASPI, OP
Archbishop of Caceres
11 July 1989
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THE MANIPULATIVE USE OF HUMAN RIGHTS VIOLATIONS