Rights lawyer Alamuddin takes Arroyo’s case to UN

International human rights lawyer Amal Alamuddin has lodged a case with the United Nations to compel the Philippine government to release former president Gloria Arroyo, who is being held at a hospital over a graft charge.

Ms Alamuddin accused the Philippines of violating at least four provisions of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights by opposing bail for Arroyo and delaying her trial.

The 67-year-old has been held at the Veterans Memorial Medical Centre north of Manila for the past three years over allegations that she stole 399 million pesos from the state lottery firm when she was president from 2004 to 2010.

In the Feb 26 complaint lodged with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention, Ms Alamuddin said Manila has failed to establish legitimate grounds for opposing a motion for bail.

The motion has been pending before an anti-graft court for over 10 months, denying Arroyo's right to a speedy trial, according to Ms Alamuddin, who is married to Hollywood star George Clooney.

In suggesting political persecution, she said most of the other officials accused in the same case with Arroyo have already been allowed to post bail.

Ms Alamuddin, 37, whose clients included WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange and former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Timoshenko, is seeking a public apology and compensation for Arroyo.

The government should at least allow the former president and current congressman, who has neck arthritis, to seek medical treatment abroad, she said.

Ms Alamuddin added that Arroyo should also have unrestricted access to a mobile phone, a computer and the Internet.

Arroyo was first arrested soon after stepping down as president, in November 2011, on charges of electoral fraud.

She was allowed to post bail in July 2012, but was re-arrested in November the same year on the graft charge involving the state lottery firm.

Communications Minister Herminio Coloma said the government has yet to receive a formal notice of the complaint.

President Benigno Aquino's spokesman Edwin Lacierda referred the matter to the Sandiganbayan, the anti-graft court hearing the case.

"Perhaps one should ask the Sandiganbayan that question," he said when asked whether the government was singling out Arroyo for political persecution.

Mr Aquino took office in 2010 on a promise to combat graft, which drains more than 200 billion pesos (S$6.2 billion), or 1.8 per cent of economic output, from the government's coffers each year.

The case of Arroyo, who led the country's biggest centre-right political party opposing Mr Aquino's ruling centre-left party, has been a cornerstone of the President's anti-graft campaign.

Apart from Arroyo, other high-profile inmates include three opposition senators ensnared in a massive pork-barrel scam.

A militant political group, meanwhile, has urged Ms Alamuddin to widen her case to include other cases of human rights violations in the Philippines.

"While we are glad that Amal Alamuddin Clooney is concerned with the human rights situation in the Philippines, it is best that she also raise the issue of human rights violations of the poor and the powerless, including at least 229 cases of extrajudicial killings of activists, media and ordinary people, enforced disappearances, illegal arrest and detention," said Mr Neri Colmenares of the Bayan Muna (Nation First) party.

This article was first published on March 10, 2015.
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