Melissa Roxas asks UN Special Rapporteur on Torture to call for full and impartial investigation
into her abduction and torture in the Philippines in 2009

August 24, 2011, Los Angeles, CA—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 International Human Rights Clinic and the firm of Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison LLP, requests that the Special Rapporteur call upon the Philippines government to investigate Ms. Roxas’s abuse in order to identify the perpetrators and hold them accountable.

Melisa Roxas speaks into a microphone.
Melissa Roxas, a Filipina-American, was kidnapped and tortured in the Philippines in 2009.

In May 2009, Ms. Roxas was preparing for an aid mission in the Philippines when approximately fifteen armed men abducted her, along with two companions.  She was then held for six days, 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.  While in captivity, Ms. Roxas heard sounds consistent with those of a military airbase.  For example, some of her captors used the greeting “sir,” and one informed her she had been detained by a special forces unit of the Philippines military.

Ms. 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.  Some of Ms. Roxas’s efforts to investigate were barred.  For example, though Ms. Roxas presented evidence indicating that she had been abducted by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines, she was prohibited from inspecting the military base where she suspects the detention occurred.

“Although no one denies the abuse that I suffered, the Philippines government has repeatedly denied me justice for it,” said Ms. Roxas, who continues to seek a full and impartial investigation that will lead to accountability for those responsible.

“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, Ms. Roxas’s attorney at Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison.  “Rather than accepting impunity she is taking her case to the international level.”

As detailed in the submission to the Special Rapporteur, Ms. 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 Fernando Delgado, Clinical Instructor at the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.  “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 Susan Farbstein, Associate Clinical Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School.

To this end, the submission urges the Special Rapporteur to undertake a visit to the Philippines to investigate the prevalence of torture in cases such as Ms. 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.

A team of Harvard law students including Yonina Alexander, JD ’12, Kendra Sena, JD ’12, Amanda Boozer, JD ’13, and Meghan Ingrisano, JD ’13, spent their spring semester conducting legal and factual research in preparation for the filing, under the supervision of Delgado and Farbstein.

The submission is available here.

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

Press Contacts:

  • Cara Solomon, Communications Coordinator, Human Rights Program, Harvard Law School: 617-495-9214, [email protected].
  • Victoria Don, Attorney, Schonbrun DeSimone Seplow Harris Hoffman & Harrison: 310-396-0731, [email protected].