A TOP official of the United Nations Office of the High Commission on Human Rights has criticized the continued attacks made by state actors against human rights defenders in the Philippines, including the murders of three tribal leaders by militiamen in Surigao del Sur and various recorded attempts at suppressing human rights defenders in the country.
Michel Forst, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders, made the criticism in his report UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, Switzerland on March 3 and hit government inaction on the violations of the rights of indigenous peoples.
“The Special Rapporteur considers the killings of Messrs. Emerito Samarca, Dionel Campos, and Bello Sinzo to be systematic of the aggressions suffered by human rights defenders in rural areas and indigenous communities in response to violations committed in the course of environmentally dubious mining operations, wide-spread development of monoculture plantations, land grabs and territorial disputes,” Forst said in his report.
But months after the incident, Forst noted that “since the sending of the communication on this matter, information has been received of further killings of indigenous rights defenders in Mindanao.”
“Military occupation of civilian institutions and killing of civilians, particularly in places such as schools which should remain safe havens for children from this type of violence, are unacceptable, deplorable and contrary to international human rights and international humanitarian standards,” he said.
Forst also urged the Philippine Government to “take every possible measure to ensure that these extrajudicial killings do not remain in impunity, for fear of the potential encouragement a lack of justice would provide for any potential perpetrators of such acts in the future.”
Forst’s report on cases of human rights attacks in the Philippines also made mention the alleged “surveillance and intimidation” against members of rights group Karapatan “as a result of their legitimate human rights activities and exercise of rights to freedom of expression and association” and the attempted disbarment petition on human rights lawyer Harry Roque, initiated by the Armed Forces of the Philippines.
“The Special Rapporteur wishes to remind the Government of its responsibility to ensure a safe and enabling environment for human rights lawyers whereby they can practice without fear of repercussions or harassment of any sort,” the report read.
In Asia Pacific alone, Forst noted that the threats of high number of cases concerning arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders, and accusations of their judicial harassment through arduous proceedings of due process are looming as “systematic attempts to criminalize the legitimate and peaceful activities of human rights defenders.”
Also on Friday, a solon condemned the latest case of harassment against displaced lumad in Davao City, saying that government inaction to address past violence enables further human rights violations against indigenous peoples.
“We condemn, in the strongest terms, this brazen attack on the lumad refugees in Haran. The arsonists violated the sanctuary provided by the UCCP to a group already forced to flee from their communities by relentless military operations,” ACT Teachers Rep. Antonio Tinio said.
Still unidentified men in motorcycles torched the camp and dormitories inside the Haran Compound of the United Churches of Christ of the Philippines, sending five people”•including two children”•to hospital.
The church compound serves as temporary home to the lumad who were driven from their homes by paramilitary groups in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon since last year.
Tinio challenged national and local government authorities to immediately bring the perpetrators to justice.
“Impunity must not be allowed to prevail, especially since the plight of the lumad refugees in Haran has already been brought to the attention of the United Nations,” he added.