Int’l anti-torture organizations condemn ill-treatment of Moro human rights activist by US authorities

News Release | April 27, 2018

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a partnership of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), released an urgent statement and alert  condemning the “ill-treatment, arbitrary detention, and subsequent deportation of Mr. Jerome Succor Aba, and calls upon the US authorities to guarantee in all circumstances the right to freedom of movement, peaceful assembly, and association of all human rights defenders in the USA.” 

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The Observatory received reports from Karapatan, a human rights organisation assisting Aba, that on April 17, 2018, at around 8 pm, Mr. Jerome Succor Aba was arrested by US Department of Homeland Security and US Customs and Border Protection officials upon his arrival at San Francisco International Airport. Mr. Aba had travelled to the USA to participate as a resource speaker in the 2018 Ecumenical Advocacy Days and the Stop the Killings Speaking Tour in Washington D.C., arranged by the Human Rights Office of the Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church and the US chapter of the International Coalition on Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP). Mr. Aba had been granted a ten-year multiple entry visa by the US Embassy in Manila on March 27, 2018, prior to travelling to the USA. He was notably expected to join various activities in the US to discuss the human rights situation and martial law in Mindanao, Southern Philippines, under the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Immediately after being arrested, Mr. Aba was taken from the immigration desk to the Homeland Security office for interrogation, where he underwent a thorough body search, was forced to strip naked, had all his belongings confiscated, and was handcuffed.

Throughout the interrogation, officials accused him of being a “terrorist” and a “communist”. He was not read his Miranda rights until the end of his interrogation, and his right to remain silent was omitted. Despite his repeated requests, he was denied access to a lawyer. Human rights organisations protesting outside the airport also insisted on gaining access to him, but were not allowed to speak to him. Following his interrogation, he was forced to sign several blank documents and give a statement on camera stating that he had not been tortured by the authorities, under the impression that it would make his release possible. At no time during his detention was Mr. Aba granted access to a lawyer, nor was he given a clear reason for his detention or denial of entry in the USA. It was only towards the end of this detention that he was able to speak with the Philippine Consulate over the phone.

At 12:30 am on April 19, 2018, Mr. Aba was put on a plane back to the Philippines. Once the plane landed in Manila, the cabin crew handed Mr. Aba his cell phone together with his flight ticket from Manila to Davao.

The two organizations called on the US government to “put an end to any kind of harassment against Mr. Jerome Succor Aba, as well as of all human rights defenders in the USA, especially through the use of immigration laws, and ensure in all circumstances that they are able to carry out their legitimate activities without any hindrance and fear of reprisals.” 

The Observatory also called for a “prompt, independent, and thorough investigation into the above-mentioned events, in order to identify all those responsible, bring them before an independent tribunal, and sanction them as provided by the law” and for the US to respect and conform to provisions under the UN Declaration on Human Rights and the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders.

Copy of the full statement here: United States: Arbitrary arrest, ill-treatment, and subsequent deportation of Mr. Jerome Succor Aba