Members of the Philippine army have been accused of committing a war crime, after posing for a photo with the body of a suspected communist rebel fighter, who is also the daughter of a member of Congress.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement on Thursday that posing with a person’s body for photographs was “an outrage against the dignity of the individual” and was prohibited under the laws of war.
“Committing outrages upon personal dignity is a war crime under the Rome Statute as it applies to dead persons under the ‘Elements of Crimes’ of the International Criminal Court,” said Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director.
“Evidently posed photographs of the body … are a cruel and unnecessary affront to that individual’s dignity and violate the laws of war.”
Robertson pointed out that there are similar provisions on the humane handling of dead bodies in the agreement on human rights signed between the Philippines and the National Democratic Front, the political-wing of the communist rebels.
The Philippine Army said that Jevilyn Campos Cullamat was killed in a “shoot-out” in a village in Surigao del Sur, a province in the southern island of Mindanao.
The Cullamat family belongs to the Manobo ethnic minority group, which has also been fighting for land rights in Mindanao.
The military identified the 22-year-old – daughter of House of Representative member, Eufemia Cullamat – as a fighter of the New People’s Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines – now a designated “terrorist group” following the collapse of talks with the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.
Her mother earlier condemned the military over the killing.
“She is not a thing, she is not a trophy to be paraded for military propaganda. You did not respect the dead, you are also disrespecting our family’s grief,” she said.
Outrage over photo
Outrage erupted when the state-run Philippine News Agency published a photo of the aftermath of the encounter, in which special forces soldiers were shown posing next to Cullamat’s body and some seized weapons.
The photo was later deleted, but not before members of the press made copies and took screenshots of the image.
Facebook pages belonging to the Philippine army and media personalities allied with the Duterte administration also published photographs showing the young woman’s body, drawing thousands of mostly supportive comments.
On Wednesday, Delfin Lorenzana, the Philippine defence secretary, admitted in a television interview that what the soldiers had done “was wrong”.
“I don’t approve of that action. They (soldiers) shouldn’t have done that,” Lorenzana told the CNN Philippines TV network.