Press Release: Balay urged parties in conflict to ensure protection of civilians in the on-going military- BIFF clashes
Balay has called on concerned local government units and the military authorities to uphold humanitarian protection and to take steps to ensure civilian safety and welfare following the reported deaths of a pregnant woman and a 14-year old boy at the height of mortar shelling operations initiated by the armed forces against members of the Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in the areas around the Liguasan Marsh in North Cotabato and Maguindanao. since June 10.
Josephine Lascano, Balay executive director, also asked mandated organizations committed to human rights to hold a non-partisan investigation on the reported deaths of civilians in the conflict-affected localities. At the same time, she reminded rebel fighters to refrain from taking actions that would put the lives of civilians and non-combatants in danger and violate the humanitarian principles governing parties in armed conflict situation.
Lascano also called on authorities to verify reports from its local monitoring partners saying that soldiers and public officials are asking the evacuees to return to their place of origin despite the ongoing aerial bombings in nearby areas. She appealed to the armed forces and local government officials to adhere to the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement in handling the situation of the internally displaced persons.
The clashes between soldiers and the BIFF have resulted to the displacement of more than 3,000 families from the villages of Dalgan, Buliok and Kalbugan in the municipality of Pagalungan. Many of the evacuees have sought refuge in the old market and an elementary school in the town center and later moved to the neighboring municipality of Montawal.
“Authorities should ensure the security of civilians caught in the middle of conflict by implementing the IHL and conform to international standards. Civilians should be spared from the on-going operation especially the elders, women and children. Armed groups and security forces should be held accountable if they commit any human rights abuses,” Lascano said.
She urged the government to work for the passage of the Internal Displacement Act and the Bangsamoro Basic Law as essential measures to attain durable solutions to the recurrent issue of internal displacement in security-challenged areas in Mindanao.
“Internal displacement in the Philippines is most pervasive in areas where militarization and clashes between government forces and rebel fighters take place. Most affected are women and children who are constantly living under threat and vulnerable to harassment and gender-based violence. To protect the rights of the IDPs is to protect our own human rights and live without fear,” Lascano ended.