With the help of Harvard Law School’s International Human Rights Clinic, Filipina-American Melissa Roxas has filed a submission with the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture seeking justice for the abduction and torture she suffered in the Philippines in 2009. The submission, prepared by the IHRC and the firm of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison, requests that the Special Rapporteur call upon the Philippines government to investigate Roxas’s abuse in order to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable.

A team of Harvard law students including Yonina Alexander ’12, Kendra Sena ’12, Amanda Boozer ’13, and Meghan Ingrisano ’13, spent their spring semester conducting legal and factual research in preparation for the filing, under the supervision of Fernando Delgado, clinical instructor, and Susan Farbstein, associate clinical director, of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

In May 2009, Roxas was preparing for an aid mission in the Philippines when approximately 15 armed men abducted her and two companions. She was then held for six days, at what she believes was a military base, during which time she was kept blindfolded and handcuffed, deprived of food and water, and brutally interrogated. During these interrogations, Ms. Roxas was choked, beaten, and suffocated with a plastic bag.

Roxas initially pursued investigations in the Philippines, but with limited success. While the Philippines judicial system and other bodies agreed that her allegations of detention and torture were factually true, they failed to identify the perpetrators.

“Faced with a lack of transparency and a lack of results in the Philippines, Melissa Roxas had to turn to the UN,” said Paul Hoffman, Roxas’s attorney at Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison. “Rather than accepting impunity she is taking her case to the international level.”

According to the submission, Roxas’s abuse is emblematic of a number of politically driven human rights violations in the Philippines—including disappearances, torture, and extrajudicial killing—perpetrated during the presidency of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The former UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Killings, Philip Alston, noted in a highly critical 2008 report that “[o]ver the past six years, there have been many extrajudicial executions of leftist activists in the Philippines.”

“We are talking about killings in the hundreds,” said Delgado. “Lack of accountability in cases such as Melissa Roxas’s is a central reason why violations persist.”

“We hope that action by the Special Rapporteur on Torture will mark a meaningful step towards combating impunity for detention, torture, and other human rights abuses that took place in the Philippines under Arroyo’s tenure and that continue to this day,” said Farbstein.

The submission urges the Special Rapporteur to undertake a visit to the Philippines to investigate the prevalence of torture in cases such as Roxas’s as well as in other contexts and to offer practical recommendations for ensuring that military, police, and security forces comply with international standards.

The submission is available on the IHRC blog.

Read a 2009 NYT article about Roxas’ release from her abductors.