Amnesty International has urged the Philippine authorities to carry out a full investigation into a brutal politically-motivated attack in the southern province of Maguindanao that has left at least 46 people dead.
Many of the victims were relatives and supporters of an opposition politician who were travelling to register his candidacy in next year’s provincial election.
Amnesty International has been told that at least 12 journalists were also part of the group who were targeted. It is not known how many journalists were killed.
They were ambushed and abducted by about 100 armed men, according to reports.
The death toll from the attack rose on Tuesday after more bodies were found in shallow graves. A state of emergency has been declared in Maguindanao to allow police to search for the gunmen.
"These killings underline the danger facing civilians in the run up to the national elections. The authorities must immediately launch an independent and effective investigation into these murders and ensure that they do all they can to prevent killings and other violence," said Donna Guest, Deputy Asia Pacific Director, Amnesty International.
The sister and the wife Esmael Mangudadatu, vice mayor of Buluan town, were among those attacked.
The province of Maguindanao witnessed widespread election violence during previous polls.
Private armies, often employed by rich and politically influential families in Mindanao, have previously committed abuses with impunity.
"The government must prohibit and disband private armies and paramilitary forces immediately. The authorities should also establish clear standards on human rights protection and ensure their implementation, particularly during the election period when politically-motivated killings could increase." said Donna Guest.