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Peacebuilders’ Perspective on the Current AFP-MNLF Clash in Zamboanga

September 16, 2013

 

by PeaceBuilders Community, Inc.

 

 While civilians are fleeing for their lives, elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) engage Moro rebels in a Zamboanga City street, backed-up by light armor vehicles popularly known as Simba. 13 September 2013. CNA Photo.
Elements of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) preparing to engage Moro rebels in a Zamboanga City street, backed-up by light armor vehicles popularly known as Simba. 13 September 2013. Reuters Photo.

These recent armed clashes between the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) in Zamboanga is characterized by confusion, disinformation, utter disregard for human lives, and grave human rights violations.

According to our latest update, this senseless violence has left 53 killed and 70 wounded. There are now 25,000 evacuees. Hundreds of homes were burned. The local economy had been badly hurt, it exacerbated the already impoverished condition among the common people.

Differing Stories by Various Factions of the MNLF. Rev. Absalom Cerveza, an evangelical pastor who joined the MNLF and became its spokesperson, was quoted saying that they have chosen the path of war over a failed diplomatic approach to gain their independence. A few weeks before this incident, Mr. Nur Misuari, the founding chairman of MNLF, felt betrayed when the Philippine government withdrew from 1996 peace pact review. For him, the government’s withdrawal amounted to the abrogation of the 1996 Peace Accord between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines and the MNLF. So, he made a unilateral declaration of independence of the Bangsamoro Republik from the Republic of the Philippines. The Bangsamoro Republik, in the mind of this faction of MNLF, includes Mindanao, Basilan, Sulu, Tawi-Tawi, and Palawan.

Another spokesperson, Atty. Emmanuel Fontanilla, informed the public last Monday morning that, indeed, they have entered and took over several villages in the City of Zamboanga through military force.

Meanwhile, one of the official MNLF Facebook pages consistently claimed that those men who entered Zamboanga City in the morning of September 09 were fake MNLF elements. Mr. John R. Petalcorin, the page administrator and one claiming to be the MNLF Director of Advocacy reporting directly to Nur Misuari, issued a general order:

GENERAL ORDER FOR THE MNLF

Stay at home or somewhere safe, maintain a low profile, and avoid any trouble. But be ready to protect your life and your family if your household is harassed. The genuine MNLF is not involved in that chaos in Zamboanga and nearby towns. Don’t get swayed by the bandwagon of media. If your senior officers in the unit would ask you to prepare for a combat mission, please report the name to me 0921-7172040 so I can warn you if that person is in the list of the over 200 Fake MNLFs that we intercepted. Allahuakbar!

The following are the major Counterfeit MNLF operators in Zamboanga and Basilan area. Please do not obey any kind of instructions (especially combat recruitment instructions) from these persons.

George Sampang, Abdulsalim Laki Wahi, Bulleng Montong, Kiram Abdullah, Ocacc Mohammad, Hj. Sahipa Walsa, Manalbang Tahil, Tuan Samili, Usman Powa, Degte Ibrahim, Akramin Menembanl, Nurmina Mahamud, Afdar Salik, Hj. Abbas Tangkian, Min Alam, Hb. Andang Hashim, Lacson Sawadjaan, Abdullajid HB. Hussein, Hj. Abdua Jakaria, Hatimil Hassan, Jan Jakilan, Mitsuara Hassan, Ustadz Abdulmuhmin Mujamid, Likhab Salahuddin, Aramel Amirin, Datu Bungsu Mursalun, Ustadz Hassan Jaiiani.

The other official MNLF Facebook page, however, has a message that directly contradicts the message above. It gives a link to the official website of the MNLF with the following editorial on its front page:

CAUSES OF THE SUDDEN ERUPTION OF FILIPINO-MORO WAR IN ZAMBOANGA CITY

The Filipino-Moro war raging now in Zamboanga City between the colonial Philippine occupation soldiers and the Bangsamoro freedom fighters of the Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) could not have occurred if the present Aquino government respected only the September 2, 1996 MNLF-OIC-GRP Jakarta Peace Agreements.

 

Clearly, it is noted that another factor that led to the Filipino-Moro war now raging in Zamboanga City is the unwarranted harassment and arrest of MNLF harmless members and supporters entering the city. The present AFP-MNLF war in Zamboanga City could have been averted without the tactical design of the colonial city government under Mayor Beng Climaco to block the peaceful rally of the MNLF members and mass supporters. Worst, the harmless MNLF members and supporters were harassed and some were arrested and jailed for committing no crime at all, except only to witness and to participate in a peaceful assembly.

 The alarming turn of events just dismayed the MNLF freedom fighters in Zamboanga peninsula, Basilan and Sulu. Thus, they decided to come to the aid and rescue of the persecuted MNLF civilian members, who have come to Zamboanga City from all over Mindanao, Sulu and Palawan.

Demonstrating to the Philippine colonial government that the Bangsamoro people have the legitimate and historical right to proclaim their independence and national self-determination by any possible peaceful means, the MNLF freedom fighters entered the four areas of Rio Hondo, Sta. Catalina, Talon-Talon and Sta. Barbara to press their claim to a peaceful rally and raising publicly the MNLF-Bangsamoro national flag.

 However, the colonial Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) occupation soldiers used, as usual, force and  firepower to drive them out of Zamboanga City. But the MNLF freedom fighters stood their ground engaging the Philippine military troops equipped  with tank reinforcements and helicopter gunships beginning on September 9, 2013. 

The military reported that the MNLF forces who went to Zambaonga to declare independence actually came from the neighboring islands of Sulu and Basilan; they were not MNLF elements from Zamboanga City. These armed men from Sulu and Basilan were reportedly under the command of Habier Malik.

On the first four days of this armed crisis, Nur Misuari was nowhere to be found.

Mr. Mujiv Hataman, Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was interviewed by GMA News. He said that Malik, Fontanilla, Misuari, and Cerveza have differing statements. Hataman also mentioned that he listened to the stories of the spouses and families of MNLF men who travelled from Basilan and Sulu to Zamboanga. He learned that their respective spouses were instructed by their commanders “to join a peace parade” in Zamboanga City.

If this is true, then who’s giving orders to Habier Malik?

 Elements of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Armed Defensive Formation, marching towards their Strategic Convergence Zones. Lamitan City, Province of Basilan, Mindanao Island. 09 July 2013. Photo by Richard Falcatan.
Elements of Moro National Liberation Front (MNLF) in Armed Defensive Formation, marching towards their Strategic Convergence Zones. Lamitan City, Province of Basilan, Mindanao Island. 09 July 2013. Photo by Richard Falcatan.

Mr. Mujiv Hataman, Governor of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) was interviewed by GMA News. He said that Malik, Fontanilla, Misuari, and Cerveza have differing statements. Hataman also mentioned that he listened to the stories of the spouses and families of MNLF men who travelled from Basilan and Sulu to Zamboanga. He learned that their respective spouses were instructed by their commanders “to join a peace parade” in Zamboanga City.

Inspite of Misuari’s denial of his involvement in this Zamboanga violence, President Benigno Aquino III, in a public interview, made it clear that he will not allow Misuari to get off the hook.

A Conspiracy of Anti-Peace Forces.  The Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), in a statement published in their official website, believes that “there is a conspiracy of all anti-peace and anti-MILF forces against the success of the GPH-MILF peace negotiation which is in the last stretch.”  This was published in the context of the recent series of bomb explosions in Mindanao that killed 17 and wounded 81 people.  “The administration of President Benigno Aquino III is not spared from this conspiracy. It is as much as the target of this hate and shaming campaign as the MILF,” the statement added.

The MILF also added Misuari’s call for independence as among these anti-peace forces.

In another statement, MILF’s spokesperson Von Al Haq, assured the public that the current armed conflict in Zamboanga will not affect the on-going Peace Talks between the GPH and the MILF.

Somehow, the conspiracy theory of the MILF must be considered. Is it really mere coincidence that this military stand off happens a day before the 40th GPH-MILF Formal Exploratory Talks in Kuala Lumpur?

A Distraction Away from the Pork Barrel Issue.  It is also possible that this event may be used as a media distraction by powerful people who are involved in one of the major corruption expose involving senior legislators and possibly senior officials in the executive branch. This is popularly known as the pork barrel scandal. Several questions have to be considered in relation to this:

Our GloCal Perspective. We look at the current AFP-MNLF clash from a global-local (glocal) perspective. A small segment of our society — who would lose so much of their war-based wealth and power interests — is actively doing a smear campaign against President Benigno Aquino III and is actually working to destabilize the barely budding peace and order in Mindanao. These shadowy forces know how to use desperate personalities and organizations.  They can also manipulate armed groups desperately needing financial input.  We believe that all these tactical operations are done to advance a strategic political purpose—that is, to maintain the status quo wherein their corruption-based wealth and power would continue to thrive.

These same forces — some are occupying powerful positions within our government and some are apparently opposing our current administration — are behind the war-based economy that enslaves the people of Mindanao and the whole Philippines. They seem to have persuaded President Benigno Aquino III to welcome the increasing presence of the U.S. military in our country.

There’s so much money in this new agreement with the Americans. The $526B US Defense Budget for 2014 includes a promise that calms the psyche of the American tax payers. This budget –

COUNTERS TERRORISM. Protecting the United States from terrorism remains a national security priority. The United States and its allies have had many successes against terrorist groups, but the priority of fighting terrorism remains, even as the specific threats have changed. The Budget continues to prioritize this mission by funding investments that are consistent with the four principles of the National Strategy for Counterterrorism, including: combatting terrorism in ways that are consistent with core U.S. values; building the capacity of our partners to fight terrorism; developing systems and capabilities to defend American citizens and deny terrorists safe havens; and preventing terrorists from developing, acquiring, or using weapons of mass destruction.”

Fiscal Year 2014 Budget of the US Government: Department of Defense

(Office of Management and Budget, p. 71)

A small chunk of this budget would be given to the Philippine government — only if we can prove that there are indeed terrorists in our own backyard.

Then we hear of the Zamboanga armed crisis that is so confusing, so chaotic, so deceiving and so murderous! Even attempts by conflicting parties on the ground towards a peaceful surrender and freeing of hostages is suppressed and hindered by some powerful actors.

This is our own glocal assessment and analysis which is largely influenced by our field experience where we see foreigners operating along with local military personnel.

Because of this painful reality, we resonate with the cry of an ancient Hebrew prophet:

How long, Lord, must I call for help,
But you do not listen?
Or cry out to you, “Violence!”
but you do not save?
Why do you make me look at injustice?
Why do you tolerate wrongdoing?
Destruction and violence are before me;
there is strife, and conflict abounds.
Therefore the law is paralyzed,
and justice never prevails.
The wicked hem in the righteous,
so that justice is perverted.”  (Habakkuk 1:2-4)

Praying with the Body of Christ in the Philippines. And so, we shared our hearts and minds to the evangelical Christian leadership in the Philippines and submitted our humble perspectives. We prayed with them. We did biblical reflection with them. We studied the facts with them.

Then the Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches published a pastoral letter to the nation. We resonate with their words:

PCEC STATEMENT ON THE CURRENT ZAMBOANGA CRISIS

The Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches (PCEC) is made up of more than 30,000 congregations nationwide who follow Jesus Christ, the Prince of Peace. We follow Jesus for whom loving one’s neighbor is an expression of loving God, and for which reason he rejected the use of violence and retaliation even against one’s enemies.

We are thus convinced that conflicts are best resolved through peaceful means. We believe that the use of violence in Zamboanga City would only claim and injure the lives of people—whether they be government soldiers, MNLF fighters, or civilians—who are equally valuable before the sight of God.

As we express our solidarity with the people of Zamboanga –

:: We call on all the constituencies affiliated with PCEC and all other Christian churches and mission agencies to pray for the peace of our land;

:: We call on His Excellency President Benigno Aquino III and Mr. Nur Misuari to order their respective troops for the immediate ceasefire and cessation of all hostilities;

:: We call on the evangelical churches, ministry organizations and relief agencies to work together with all humanitarian agencies for the protection of civilians and to provide emergency relief to people affected by this violence;

:: We call all parties to immediately engage in a peaceful dialogue to resolve these conflicts;

:: We call on other parties who have caused, or have contributed to this violence in order to protect their corrupt wealth-and-power interests, to repent before God and change your ways. “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7)

PCEC prays that sustainable peace, based on justice, would be reached between the Government of the Philippines and all the Moro fronts through a peaceful, inclusive, negotiated settlement.

PCEC continually supports the current Peace Talks between the Government of the Philippines and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front, with prayers that the on-going negotiations in Malaysia between their respective panels would not be affected by the crisis in Zamboanga, and that this GPH-MILF talks would result in a successful comprehensive agreement.

PCEC is earnestly praying that the people of the Philippines would quickly learn to settle our conflicts through dialogue and negotiations in the context of a culture of peace.

“Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way. The Lord be with all of you.” (II Thess. 3:16 NIV)

 

The Board of Trustees, Philippine Council of Evangelical Churches

Please contact:

Bishop Efraim M. Tendero, PCEC National Director, info@pceconline.org. or telephone 9131655-57

 

 

Towards a Radical National Transformation. We also believe that in the long run, we have to deal with the factors causing the armed conflicts in our land. Among the major ones is corrupt oligarchy and their practice of patronage politics.

As a segment of the Body of Christ in this country, we have to start with our worldview and a sound biblical-theological framework for our corporate actions. We have been presenting to the evangelical churches a holistic understanding of the Gospel that addresses the need for spiritual transformation, psychosocial transformation, sociopolitical transformation, and economic-ecological transformation.

At the same time, we also recommend to the church leaders and theologians to continue advocating our priority advocacies in the area of Christian social theology and ethics. The evangelicals are now actively contributing to our national transformation by addressing the current Philippine challenges we’re facing as a society. As a start, we have focused our actions on the following:

Thank you, our global community and partners, for your love, prayers, and support.

May we all experience justice-based peace within us and around us.

 

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The Ongoing Search for Justice for Victims of the Japanese War Crimes in Mapanique, Philippines

September 16, 2013

 

On November 23, 1944, Japanese troops descended on the town of Mapanique in the Philippines. The troops gathered  men and boys in the town and proceeded to castrate them. Afterwards, the men were forced to put their severed sexual organs in their mouths before they were burned to death en masse. Women and girls were marched to what is known today as “Bahay na Pula” (red house) in San Ildenfonso, Bulacan. There, they were interred and repeatedly raped.

 

Members of the Malaya Lolas rallying outside the Philippine Supreme Court

 

The magnitude of the Japanese cruelty in Mapanique can be attributed to several causes. The town was known to be a hotbed of resistance to Japanese rule. It was in Central Luzon where the guerilla movement, HUKBALAHAP, was formed only months before the siege. One of the movement’s most respected leaders Commander Dayang Dayang was a native of Mapanique. The Japanese troops were also growing desperate because they knew they had already lost the war.

Fifty years later,  inspired by the revelations of South Korean women who publicly admitted that they were victims of the Japanese comfort women system, about 60 victims of war crimes from Mapanique formed the group known as Malaya Lola’s, or liberated grandmothers. While primarily an organization of women who were raped by the Japanese during the Mapanique siege, it also includes in its roster women whose husbands, sons and other male loved ones became victims of Japanese war atrocities.

In 2004, the Malaya Lolas filed suit in the Philippine Supreme Court to compel the Philippine government to espouse, or sponsor, their claims for compensation from the Japanese government. Prior to this suit, the Malaya Lolas had a suit for reparations dismissed by Japanese courts on the ground that the women do not have personality to sue under international law. The Japanese courts opined that the Philippine government must sponsor their claims. Hence, the case Vinuya et. al. versus Executive Secretary.

The position raised three points: one, mass rapes against civilian populations have always been subject of a non-derogable prohibition in times of war; two, it is also subject of a duty for all states to investigate, prosecute and punish the perpetrators thereof. And three, the commission of mass rape will not only entail the duty of a state to pay compensation as a consequence of the doing an internationally wrongful act, it is also the basis for individuals to incur individual criminal responsibility.

To counter the Philippine Government’s position that further reparations are barred by a waiver which the Republic had signed, the women argued that the waiver is null and void for being contrary to public policy and also that the state cannot waive a right that inures to its nationals.

6 years after the filing of the Vinuya case, and after 20 of the original petitioners had died, the Philippine Supreme Court unanimously dismissed the Malaya Lola’s petition. In its 33 page decision, the Court said that the claims for compensation are barred because of the San Francisco Peace Pact. In exchange for nominal war reparations, the government was said to have waived any and further claims for compensation from Japan, a view consistently espoused by the Department of Foreign Affairs. Furthermore, the court ruled that while it commiserates with the sufferings of the women of Mapanique, this, allegedly, is one instance where there is a violation of right but bereft of a legal remedy. The Court also said that while rape is prohibited, there is no non-derogable obligation to investigate, prosecute and punish those who committed mass rape as a war crime. This decision is the second siege of the women of Mapanique.

Fortunately, the women of  Mapanique have found new allies in their continuing search for justice. Pending resolution of their motion for reconsideration, the Korean Constitutional Court, ruling on a petition with the same issues as those in the Philippine Supreme  Court, ruled that the Korean government must espouse the claim of the Korean comfort women. Further, the European Center for Constitutional  and Human Rights filed intervention in the Philippine Supreme Court to argue that pacta sundt servanda cannot prevail over the jus cogens prohibition on rape. The intervention of the ECCHR in the case was facilitated by a non-profit organization, the Bertha Foundation, which has been funding young lawyers in both the ECCHR and Centerlaw, and counsel of the comfort women in the Philippine case.

 

This post was published in the Oxford Human Rights Hub at http://ohrh.law.ox.ac.uk/?p=2764 . The author, Atty. Harry Roque, is the Chairperson of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC).

 

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EVENT: Women’s Flashmob in Congress: Jail the Corrupt Lawmakers!

September 16, 2013

Press Release

September 10, 2013

WOMEN’S FLASHMOB IN CONGRESS: JAIL THE CORRUPT LAWMAKERS!

 

 

While welcoming the neophyte legislators’ manifesto on the 2014 Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF), women’s groups belonging to the World March of Women-Pilipinas (WMW) and the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PC-ICC) want lawmakers to ensure the complete abolition of the entire pork barrel system, and the punishment of guilty legislators and their conspirators.

Women dancers who appeared to be lobbyists in formal attire started to occupy the Congress lobby at 2PM (September 10), to make a clear statement that creative actions will be sustained until they see the people’s victory on this issue. The House Committee on Appropriations will be held today (September 10) and the plenary debate is yet to happen on September 21.

“The abolition of all forms of pork is not even assured yet, and they refuse to touch the President’s pork,” said Jean Enriquez, Coordinator of WMW-Pilipinas. Enriquez added that the legislators’ basis for keeping the President’s pork is untenable.

The neophyte legislators earlier said that it cannot be touched because it is meant for calamities and emergency situations.

“It has already been proposed that the calamity fund within the Special Purpose Fund (SPF) could be allocated to the unit on climate change or disaster management. The other items under the SPF should similarly be allocated under the regular budgets of the pertinent government agencies,” remarked Enriquez.

“We propose that a reallocation of pork be towards social services, such as preventive and integrative healthcare,” according to Pangging Santos of SARILAYA.

“Malacanang’s reasoning that the SPF does not come from people’s taxes but from contributions of the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation (PAGCOR), among others, is non-sequitur. This is still public fund – the people’s money,” according Enriquez.

Becky Lozada, a member of the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court, who joined the dance said “the PDAF scam is criminal considering the situation of poor people in the country. We are dancing today to show our protest but there is violence and armed conflict in the country because of massive poverty. Imagine what can be done if we abolish pork and put public funds to services for the people.”

Towards the end of the dance, the women took off their formal clothing to reveal shirts with the slogan “Scrap Pork!” They also held a banner with the message “Jail the Corrupt Lawmakers!”

The 30 flashmobbers of WMW include women from the Alliance of Progressive Labor-SENTRO, Bagong Kamalayan, CATW-AP, Center for Migrant Advocacy (CMA), KAISA-KA, SARILAYA, Pambansang Koalisyon ng mga Kababaihan sa Kanayunan (PKKK), WomanHealth Philippines, and the Youth and Students Advancing Gender Equality (YSAGE). They pledged to appear elsewhere “until pork in all its forms is removed, thieves jailed and the Freedom of Information Act passed.”

Contact Person: Clydie Pasia 0917 525 0388

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August 12 is IHL Day

August 11, 2013

INTERNATIONAL HUMANITARIAN LAW DAY 2013

Press Statement – Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC)

12 August 2013

Civilians caught in crossfire, child soldiers, forced evacuations, sexual violence in situations of armed conflict—these are some of the crimes that continue to beset our country as fighting continues between the government’s military forces and insurgent armed groups. People’s lives are tallied as accidental casualties of war and impunity persists. In times like this, international humanitarian law (IHL), the law of armed conflict, is a beacon that gives hope that human suffering will be abated and justice will be served on IHL violations.

In the past few years, the Philippine Coalition for the International Criminal Court (PCICC) celebrated the strengthening of IHL in the country with the enactment of RA 9851, the national law on IHL, in 2009; and, the government’s ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court in 2011. The Philippines is committed to penalize war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. IHL continues to be strengthened and refined through the efforts of government and civil society in institutionalizing respect for humanity during situations of armed conflict.

Today, August 12, we raise our voice to call for justice for victims of varied IHL violations perpetrated against both civilians and combatants, by state and non-state actors alike, transcending age, gender or faith.

Violations cannot be allowed to be a bloody game of attacks and counterattacks. We call for thorough investigations and legal action on possible cases of IHL violations. The past year alone was rocked by the ambush of Gingoog Mayor Ruthie Guingona in Misamis Oriental; the deaths of civilians in La Castellana, Negros Occidental during an NPA operation; the reported recruitment of child soldiers by both the communist and Muslim insurgents; the use of schools as military encampment during operations; the displacement of communities in Mindanao because of BIFF-AFP clashes; among others.

Thus, while at present, both state and non-state parties appear to be more knowledgeable and committed to adherence to IHL, as borne out by their recent actuations—public apologies, release of captured soldiers, IHL education efforts—the imperative for giving teeth and heart to international humanitarian law still stands out more than ever.

On this day, in the face of these challenges, as we enjoin the world to celebrate the spirit of international humanitarian law, the PCICC vows to continue its journey towards justice and against impunity, in the hope of coming together with all the stakeholders towards a genuine and lasting peace in the country and for the love of humanity.

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INFOGRAPHIC: ICC Reparations by Tribunal

July 18, 2013

INFOGRAPHIC: ICC Reparations by Tribunal

Article 79 of the Rome Statute established the first ever international trust fund for the benefit of victims of crimes under the ICC’s jurisdiction. Learn more about victim participation and reparations by the numbers in this infographic. – Leitner Center for International Law and Justice

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INFOGRAPHIC: What can the International Criminal Court do?

July 18, 2013

INFOGRAPHIC: What can the International Criminal Court do?

The ICC can try perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, but those crimes also contain underlying offenses like murder, rape and torture. -Leitner Center for International Law and Justice

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VIDEO: What’s next for the ICC?

July 18, 2013

(T)his video looks at the successes, failures and challenges still facing the International Criminal Court (ICC) in bringing to justice those accused of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Visit Amnesty International’s International Justice site in English to explore a new interactive world map and join the campaign: http://demandjusticenow.org/”

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