from the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines
on Human Rights and Disasters
The response to situations arising from the sinking of the MV Princess of the Stars show the lack of conscientious planning and early response. Media Reports on reactions to the tragedy expose inappropriate policies for sea travel, a lack of consciousness for safety, and ill-preparedness in emergency situations.
The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines offers this general comment to current efforts of all sectors in responding to the needs of the MV Princess of the Stars victims: those who have survived, those who are still missing, and their loved ones who anxiously await news of the fate of passengers.
The risks and potential for [man-made]disasters associated with natural hazards are largely shaped by the prevailing levels of vulnerability and the effectiveness of measures taken to prevent, mitigate and prepare for it . . . However, once people have been affected by a disaster, they often encounter further challenges to the full [realization of their needs – the means to access information about the tragedy, locating and eventually reunifying with their loved ones or being able to cope with the loss of those who did not survive]. These challenges could be eased and hurdled if relevant human rights guarantees were taken into account by duty holders.
Human Rights principles and standards provide guideposts in responding to disasters, before, during and after they occur. There exists guidelines on humanitarian action in emergencies, including situations of natural disaster, in armed conflict, internal displacement and refugee situations. Admittedly, there lacks guidance on how to protect the human rights of individuals affected by man-made disasters such as the sinking of a sea vessel which has once too many times occurred in our recent history.
The Commission enjoins all duty holders to focus on a human rights-based approach to humanitarian action. We offer a preliminary set of principles that look to a consciousness of human rights protection during disaster relief:
States have an obligation to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of their constituents and specifically:
• To create a safe environment for travel, install preparedness measures for all with a special focus on vulnerable groups and ensure that rights are respected and protected from violations from third parties.
• To stop emergency situations while they are happening or mitigate the impact of such situations
• To prevent repetition of violations of rights in similar situations
• To ensure reparation and full rehabilitation when violations have occurred
The primary duty and responsibility to provide protection and assistance lies with authorities, both national and local, as well as the mother company of MV Princess of the Stars, the Sulpicio Lines.
`The provision of protection is not limited to securing the survival and physical security of those affected. This should encompass all relevant guarantees—civil and political as well as economic, social and cultural rights.
Victims and their families have the right to demand and receive assistance from government and Sulpicio Lines. Operationally, these rights can be categorized into
Rights before Emergency Situations Occur
1. Creation of a Safe Environment for travel which includes failsafe policies and guidelines for Duty Holders
2. Public Awareness on Safe Travel
3. Disaster Preparedness and Response Activities
4. Periodic Review of Policies and Guidelines
Rights during Emergency, Life Saving Phase
1. Rights related to physical security and integrity
2. Rights pertaining to basic necessities of life (medical and health services, food, water, shelter, adequate clothing)
Rights after the Emergency Situation
1. Rights to receive restitution or compensation
2. Rights related to other civil and political protection needs including enabling persons to receive appropriate interventions in accordance with the impact of the emergency situations on their lives.
The Commission also highlights the need for the Right to Information and providing access to information about the victims.
The centralization of rescue, relief and recovery operations in response to this disaster can, in the process, alienate and further aggravate families’ fear for the lives of victims. When the worst of news is known, or when rescue efforts have come to naught, recovery of bodies should be properly documented and recorded in a data-bank with open access to concerned families who, not knowing where to seek information, heightens the haplessness and further traumatizes them.
Family Reunification efforts must commence – Victims, whether dead or alive, must be reunited with their families. Where this is not possible, other measures must be installed to enable those left behind to deal with the pain of the tragedy.
At this point, we can only await the authorities’ pronouncement of what more can be done for the passengers of the illfated sea vessel.
We implore and call to action the authorities to conduct a prompt, impartial and public investigation of why sea tragedy befalls our nation.
It is in this light that the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines offers this comment as we join the nation in praying for the victims and the families affected by the sinking of the MV Princess of the Seas.
Issued this 26th day of June, 2008 at Quezon City.
For the Commission:
ATTY. LEILA M. DE LIMA