Philippines: Alarm over attacks on human rights defenders in a climate of pervasive impunity - Preliminary findings of a fact-finding mission on the conditions and vulnerabilities of HRD
PRESS RELEASE - THE OBSERVATORY
PHILIPPINES: Alarm over attacks on human rights defenders in a climate
of pervasive impunity
Preliminary findings of
a fact-finding mission on the conditions and vulnerabilities of human rights
Geneva-Paris, November 23, 2012. An international fact-finding mission
of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a
joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the
International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), presents its preliminary
conclusions following the investigation it carried out last week in the
compelling evidence that human rights defenders, in particular those advocating for land and
environmental rights, are under serious threat, are constantly vilified,
intimidated and ‘terrorised’”, noted the delegation at the conclusion of
its mission. “A climate of pervasive and systematic impunity is at the heart
of this alarming situation. Urgent protection measures and unequivocal steps to
address the lack of accountability for attacks on human rights defenders are
now required”, the delegation added.
which took place from November 11 to 17, 2012, investigated the situation of
human rights defenders in the Philippines, with a focus
on those advocating for land and environmental rights. Two members of OMCT
General Assembly, Ms. Vrinda Grover, a prominent human rights lawyer (India),
and Ms. Claudia Samayoa, Coordinator of the Unit for Protection of Human Rights
Defenders of Guatemala, led the mission. They met human rights defenders,
indigenous peoples, farmers groups, NGOs, lawyers, faith based organisations,
as well as senior government officials at the national and municipal level, the
Commission on Human Rights, foreign embassies and representatives of a
transnational mining company in Manila as well as in Mindanao (Lanao del Norte
and South Cotabato).
mission found that human rights defenders face grave risks including
extrajudicial killings, torture, harassment through implication in false
criminal cases and threats. Lawyers and journalists involved in human rights
work, too, have faced similar attacks.
human rights defenders are particularly at risk in areas where conflict over
land and natural resources has been aggravated by activities of national and
transnational companies engaged in acquisition of land for mining and/or
agro-industry. The ancestral rights of indigenous people over land and natural
resources are being brazenly violated often through the use of private security
guards, paramilitary and the military. Indigenous human rights defenders
resisting peacefully the violations and asserting their lawful and ancestral
claims face extrajudicial killings, vilification and threats. The recent
extra-judicial killing of indigenous leader Juvy Capion and her two
minor children on October 18, 2012, in Tampakan, by members of the 27th
Infantry Battalion of the Philippines Armed Forces, exemplify the dangerous and
violent conditions in the area sought for gold – copper mining by Sagittarius
Mines Inc. (SMI) and transnational company Xstrata.
mission found a general climate of human rights violations and impunity in the
country in relation to land rights and land reforms that underlie threats to human
rights defenders. Farmers and, even, Barangay (local government) officials
implementing the government’s agrarian reform programme of land redistribution
for landless farmers face serious threats to their life and liberty. Some have
been shot at, others have been criminalized and many intimidated by threat of
violence or abusive libel charges. For instance, Ms. Venecia "Inday" Natinga Nestor was shot on a public
highway in Lanao del Norte, in broad daylight on June 19, 2012 after facing
threats and harassment for being a strong advocate of the protection of the
rights of small farmers and actively pushing for land redistribution. A
consistent advocate of agrarian reform, she was very vocal against land
grabbing and a pressure to government agencies involved in the processing of
rights defenders are targeted by State and non-State actors or by both acting
in collusion and coordination with each other. The mission observed also the
effects of the continuous militarization in the region in which the military
has largely assumed functions of law enforcement. The emergence of multiple
illegal and unaccountable private armies, legalized paramilitary groups such as
Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and the Investment
Defense Unit, as well as the large scale possession and availability of
dangerous arms and weapons, are contributing to the climate of impunity for
human rights violations including the attacks on human rights defenders.
mission notes that the number of reported extrajudicial killings and enforced
disappearances has decreased since July 2010 and that President Aquino has
publicly committed that his government would not allow human rights violations.
However, due to the absence of accountability for past human rights violations,
feeble and superficial response to ongoing violations, the inaction and apathy
on the part of the police to rigorously investigate grave violations, the
culture of violence and impunity continues. Partisan police investigation and
protracted trials inspire little faith in the criminal justice system. At the
same time human rights defenders are victimized through long spells of
incarceration in false and trumped up charges. They are prosecuted for criminal
offences and not recognised and treated as political prisoners. The Government
must demonstrate its intent to respect and protect the rights of those that
continue to struggle for human rights even in a climate of stigma and fear.
though the government has formulated new laws such as the Anti-Torture Act,
constituted Units of Human Rights in the Armed Forces and the Philippines
National Police, a focal point for Human Rights Defenders in the Commission of
Human Rights of the Philippines, the challenge of widespread and systematic
impunity remains. Plethora of laws and institutional mechanisms, purportedly
for advancement of human rights, does not inspire confidence, as in their
actual working and practices those in position of political, economic and
military power continue to enjoy impunity.
In view of this situation, the Observatory for the
Protection of Human Rights Defenders makes the following preliminary recommendations:
The authorities of the Philippines
should guarantee in all circumstances the
physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders, and put an
end to all acts of harassment against them.
The actions of the Philippines
Government and its institutions and agents must display respect for the UN Declaration
on Human Rights Defenders and comply with international human rights and
humanitarian instruments ratified by the Philippines.
Professional, independent, prompt
and impartial investigation by the police into all allegations of human rights violations,
including those involving multinational corporations, as well as fair and
speedy trials, are necessary to ensure the observance of the rule of law, end
impunity and protect human rights defenders. The burden of accountability and
to provide evidence and witness testimonies in cases of human rights violations
lies with the State, not with the victim.
The role of command responsibility in Government and among
forces in the security sector should also be diligently scrutinized in the
perpetuation of impunity.
Independent investigation and
effective prosecutions of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced
disappearances can deter further attacks against human rights defenders.
Government should recognise that
human rights defenders have a legitimate role to play in ensuring peace,
justice and democracy, and therefore should promote a dignification campaign of
human rights defenders and create administrative measures to address instances
where government officials indulge in vilification.
Institutional mechanisms specially
mandated to determine the ancestral ownership of land and resources of
indigenous people needs urgent review, as there are serious allegations of
corruption and collusion, compromising the rights of the indigenous people.
The Commission of Human Rights of
Philippines (CHRP) should create mechanisms for the recognition and protection
of human rights defenders, especially those working in high risk areas. As
proposed in the second Universal Periodic Review, measures should be adopted to
enhance the capability both of the CHRP and
of HRDs to promote and protect human rights through deputizing human rights
defenders, including giving them the ‘privilege of visitation’.
The Government should issue a
standing invitation for all UN special mechanisms and procedures, specially the
UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Indigenous Peoples, and
against Extrajudicial and Arbitrary Killings.
A mission report will be issued in the coming months and will present
detailed conclusions and recommendations to the Government of The Philippines,
non-State actors, the United Nations, the European Union and foreign embassies in The
For further information,
OMCT: Delphine Reculeau:
+ 41 22 809 49 39
FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: + 33 1 43 55 25 18