Killing of alleged female rebel whose genitals were “shattered with a bullet” is a war crime - Karapatan

On April 15, 2019, a mainstream news outfit published a report on the death of Cindy Tirado, 28, an alleged woman combatant of the New People’s Army (NPA) who was killed during a reported encounter with the military in Brgy. Canocotan, Tagum City, Davao del Norte. The said report cited statements from Tirado’s mother, Emma, who belied the military’s claims that her daughter engaged soldiers in a firefight. Emma Tirado likewise claimed that her daughter was still alive when the military had her in their custody, but was instead tortured and shot in different parts of her body. Most harrowing of all is that the victim’s genitals were “shattered with a bullet” while “her arms were fractured.”

“The excesses and the state of Cindy Tirado’s body, according to her mother’s statements, constitute a war crime. The mother admitted that her daughter and a certain Jay Mendoza were living together, and that the latter was indeed a member of the NPA, but it does not justify the inhumane and brutal death of Tirado. Even civil war is subjected to identified and agreed laws that prevent such infractions to individual human dignity. Whether or not she is a combatant, shooting her genitals and the marks of torture visible in her body are serious violations to international humanitarian law (IHL). We are reminded of the President’s remark to “shoot female rebels in the vagina” and how this has now actually translated to horrific war crimes. There is no justification for this atrocious and deliberate IHL violation,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

The Philippine Government ratified the Geneva Conventions, along with its additional Protocols, back in 1986. It includes provisions on the humane treatment of all parties to the armed conflict, as well as protection of non-combatants. Protocols I and II of the Geneva Conventions explicitly state that suffering inflicted on a combatant must not go beyond what is necessary to achieve a legitimate military objective; that combatants considered incapable of fighting may not be attacked; and captured combatants must be presumed prisoners of war. Moreover, torture is prohibited in all circumstances and is considered a war crime under Articles 50, 51, 130, and 147 of the Geneva Conventions, and under Article 85 of Additional Protocol I.

The affirmation of international humanitarian law is also enshrined in the Comprehensive Agreement on the Respect for Human Rights and International Humanitarian Law (CARHRIHL), a landmark agreement and a product of the peace talks between the Government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines. Part V, Article 3.1, and 3.4 prevent torture and the desecration of the remains of those who have died in the course of an armed conflict.

“The victim’s mother was right in her assertion that Cindy Tirado, in her lack of capacity to fight, should have been taken in, charged in court, and given a proper trial. There should be an investigation into the conduct of the police and the 71st Infantry Battalion of the Philippine Army (IBPA), which resulted into this serious breach. We call on the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) to assist the victim’s family in investigating the case, exacting accountability from this war crime, and ensuring that security forces follow international humanitarian laws and protocols. Karapatan has recorded many similar incidents of IHL violations throughout various governments, but they continue to persist because leaders and ranking officials like Duterte actively incite such IHL violations,” added Palabay.

The Karapatan official also raised the disappointing impasse of the peace negotiations between the Duterte government and the NDFP. “We have to root out the problems and resolve them, and the peace negotiations provided both parties with a platform to talk and to coordinate. The brutal killing of Cindy Tirado is a reminder of how far state security forces can go, even with the international humanitarian law, and how little has changed in inculcating state forces with the basic notions of human rights and human dignity even amidst armed conflict. She is likewise a reminder of the urgent need to resolve the root causes of the armed conflict,” she emphasized.

“As for the military who will no doubt pounce again on this statement and twist it to fit their distorted narrative on human rights, we remind them again that it has been the role of non-governmental organizations and the human rights community to draw attention to atrocities and violations to human rights and international humanitarian law. It is a duty of civil society to expose these violations, seek remedies, and push for mechanisms to ensure that State and its security forces refrain from the repetition of such dastardly acts, knowing full well that the State is the primary duty-bearer of human rights” Palabay concluded.