Former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark said today on the eve of the eighth annual World Law Conference here that Manila was "a heartbreaking choice of location for a conference on human rights."
Clark, who is not attending the meeting told reporters here: "It's imperative" that the martial law rule of President Ferdinand Marcos "be ended now. There's absolutely no justification for it." He said martial law "is the antithesis of law."
Salvador Lopez, foreign minister of the Philippines from July 1963 to May 1964 and a former ambassador to the United Nations, sounded a similar call yesterday at a symposium critical of the law conference. He told about a thousand martial law opponents gathered at a Catholic college that "a policy to lift martial law with deliberate speed (should)be formally proclaimed and implemented."
It was the first time in nearly five years of martial law under the Marcos government that a respected elder statesman has publicly called for its abolition.
But the chief justice of the Philippines Supreme Court, speaking today to delegates of the World Law Conference, said that martial law "has been imposed and administered here with beingnancy and grace."
"I here and now asseverate that in the Philippines torture (is) officially shunned and condemned by the government, and that those who commit these infractions . . are always made answerable at the bar of justice," Chief Justice Fred Ruiz Castro said.
His defense was apparently in answer to a critical report on martial law in the Philippines issued earlier this month in Geneva by an investigative mission of the International commission of Jurists. The report stated: "Our interviews (with detainees) led us to conclude that the government . . . has condoned the infliction of torture by security agents of the military during sometimes very lengthy interrogation processes."
A report issued last year by the London-based human-rights orgganization Amnesty International said torture of political prisoners in the Philippines was "systematic," and to date there have been only two trials of alleged torturers in the Philippines,. Six military men were accused in the trials and three were found guilty.
The law conference, which will be formally opened Monday by Marcos and is being held under the auspices of the Washington-based World Peace through Law Center, has as its theme the legal protection of human rights. Since three-fourths of the 4000 expected delegates are Filipinos, and most of these are attending under auspices of government agencies, it seems unlikely that there will be much critical discussion of human rights conditions here.
In fact, not a single member of the government-controlled domestic media attended clark's news conference. An aide to Clark said that he was ordered out of the Law conference press center when he attempted to inform local journalists of the news conference.
Clard, who was attorney general under President Lyndon Johnson, singled out torture, prohibitions against free expression, and arbitrary arrests as the major human rights abuses in the Philippines.He cited the reports by Amnesty International - he is a senior member of its U.S. section - and the International Commission of Jurists to support his charges.
He said that "to have a conference in such a place is wrong unless the abuse of civil liberties and civil rights (here) is confronted outright . . . For lawyers and judges around the world, who perceive themselves as devoted to the rule of law, to come to Manila for a conference on human rights . . . and fail to address what has happened here, is to repudiate the possibility of the rule of law."
Among more than 30 international Supreme Court justices attending the conference is U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall. Asked how he felt about Marshall's presence, Clark said, "That depends on what he says."