UN rep pursues plan to probe rights abuses

UNITED Nations Special Rapporteur Michael Forst has renewed his request to visit the Philippines to investigate reports of rights violations against human rights defenders, impunity and summary executions.

By Christine F. Herrera | Dec. 09, 2014 at 12:01am

UNITED Nations Special Rapporteur Michael Forst has renewed his request to visit the Philippines to investigate reports of rights violations against human rights defenders, impunity and summary executions.

Forst was in the country as keynote speaker in a gathering of human rights defenders in the Asia-Pacific region.

In a two-hour meeting with rights defenders earlier this month, Forst listened to the testimony of some members of the group Karapatan and Manilakbayan.

In 2012, UN special rapporteurs on the situation of the rights of human rights defenders Hina Jilani and Margaret Sekaggya both submitted several requests to conduct an official investigation in the Philippines, said Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general.

The UN envoys were unable to obtain official invitations from the Philippine government, however, she said.

Under the Aquino administration, Palabay said Karapatan documented 226 victims of extrajudicial killings, 105 of whom were human rights defenders.

The group, she said, also monitored 26 forced disappearances, 104 victims of torture, and more than 900 illegal arrests.

“The Aquino administration has repeatedly deceived the international community and evaded scrutiny on the real score on the human rights situation in the Philippines,” Palabay said.

Palabay urged the international community and human rights advocates to press the Philippine government to accede to the request of the UNSR-HRD to look into the numerous reports of attacks against rights defenders in the country.

“Human rights defenders in the Philippines have increasingly become a vulnerable target of Aquino regime’s counter-insurgency program Oplan Bayanihan,” she added.

Manilakbayan spokesman Datu Jomorito Guaynon discussed with Forst the serious impact of combat operations by the Armed Forces on the farmers and indigenous peoples in Mindanao, where 55 combat battalions are currently deployed.

“Indigenous people’s leaders Genasque Enriquez and Jalandoni Campos are among the 213 individuals slapped with trumped up charges by the military because they continue to defend their ancestral lands. They are both vocal in their opposition against large-scale and destructive mining operations, and the role of the AFP in protecting the interests of these big companies,” Guaynon told Forst.

Rights defenders Sister Famita Somogod of the Rural Missionaries of Philippines-Northern Mindanao and Hanimay Suazo of Karapatan-Southern Mindanao reported the various threats to their lives and security by state security agents, who have tagged and labeled them as “enemies of the state.”

“Our lives are on the line. In Mindanao, there are 83 victims of extrajudicial killings; most of them are rights defenders. We are very concerned that such a trend will continue with the Aquino administration’s disregard for human rights,” Suazo told Forst.

Eleven-year old Bertoldo Garay, a student in an alternative learning school for Lumad in Surigao del Sur, described to Forst how the Armed Forces turned their school into a barracks, at the same time, tagging it as an “NPA school.”

“Even children like me are called NPAs,” Garay said, refering to the armed wing of the Communist Party, the New People’s Army.

Rights defenders from Karapatan and Gabriela Southern Tagalog highlighted the illegal arrest and detention of women activists Andrea Rosal and Miradel Torres, who were both pregnant when they were arrested.

“We appeal to the international community to support the call to immediately release Rosal, Torres and all political prisoners,” said Leona Entena of Gabriela Southern Tagalog.

Palabay said that on July 2012, Sekaggya and the UN expert on extrajudicial killings Christof Heyns released a statement highlighting the killings and attacks against human rights defenders like Italian missionary Fr. Fausto Tentorio.

They called on the government to “adopt urgent measures to protect the life of rights defenders and to ensure they are able to carry out their important work.”

They also urged the authorities to implement immediately the recommendations of UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston in his 2007 report on the killings and rights violations in the Philippines.

SOURCE manilastandardtoday.com