PHILIPPINES: Alarm over attacks on human rights defenders in a climateof pervasive impunity
Preliminary findings ofa fact-finding mission on the conditions and vulnerabilities of human rightsdefenders
Geneva-Paris, November 23, 2012. An international fact-finding missionof the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, ajoint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and theInternational Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), presents its preliminaryconclusions following the investigation it carried out last week in thePhilippines.
“There iscompelling evidence that human rights defenders, in particular those advocating for land andenvironmental rights, are under serious threat, are constantly vilified,intimidated and ‘terrorised’”, noted the delegation at the conclusion ofits mission. “A climate of pervasive and systematic impunity is at the heartof this alarming situation. Urgent protection measures and unequivocal steps toaddress the lack of accountability for attacks on human rights defenders arenow required”, the delegation added.
The mission,which took place from November 11 to 17, 2012, investigated the situation ofhuman rights defenders in the Philippines, with a focuson those advocating for land and environmental rights. Two members of OMCTGeneral Assembly, Ms. Vrinda Grover, a prominent human rights lawyer (India),and Ms. Claudia Samayoa, Coordinator of the Unit for Protection of Human RightsDefenders 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, theCommission on Human Rights, foreign embassies and representatives of atransnational mining company in Manila as well as in Mindanao (Lanao del Norteand South Cotabato).
Themission found that human rights defenders face grave risks includingextrajudicial killings, torture, harassment through implication in falsecriminal cases and threats. Lawyers and journalists involved in human rightswork, too, have faced similar attacks.
Indigenoushuman rights defenders are particularly at risk in areas where conflict overland and natural resources has been aggravated by activities of national andtransnational companies engaged in acquisition of land for mining and/oragro-industry. The ancestral rights of indigenous people over land and naturalresources are being brazenly violated often through the use of private securityguards, paramilitary and the military. Indigenous human rights defendersresisting peacefully the violations and asserting their lawful and ancestralclaims face extrajudicial killings, vilification and threats. The recentextra-judicial killing of indigenous leader Juvy Capion and her twominor children on October 18, 2012, in Tampakan, by members of the 27thInfantry Battalion of the Philippines Armed Forces, exemplify the dangerous andviolent conditions in the area sought for gold – copper mining by SagittariusMines Inc. (SMI) and transnational company Xstrata.
Themission found a general climate of human rights violations and impunity in thecountry in relation to land rights and land reforms that underlie threats to humanrights defenders. Farmers and, even, Barangay (local government) officialsimplementing the government’s agrarian reform programme of land redistributionfor landless farmers face serious threats to their life and liberty. Some havebeen shot at, others have been criminalized and many intimidated by threat ofviolence or abusive libel charges. For instance, Ms. Venecia "Inday" Natinga Nestor was shot on a publichighway in Lanao del Norte, in broad daylight on June 19, 2012 after facingthreats and harassment for being a strong advocate of the protection of therights of small farmers and actively pushing for land redistribution. Aconsistent advocate of agrarian reform, she was very vocal against landgrabbing and a pressure to government agencies involved in the processing ofland claims.
Humanrights defenders are targeted by State and non-State actors or by both actingin collusion and coordination with each other. The mission observed also theeffects of the continuous militarization in the region in which the militaryhas largely assumed functions of law enforcement. The emergence of multipleillegal and unaccountable private armies, legalized paramilitary groups such asthe CitizenArmed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and the InvestmentDefense Unit, as well as the large scale possession and availability ofdangerous arms and weapons, are contributing to the climate of impunity forhuman rights violations including the attacks on human rights defenders.
Themission notes that the number of reported extrajudicial killings and enforceddisappearances has decreased since July 2010 and that President Aquino haspublicly 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 apathyon the part of the police to rigorously investigate grave violations, theculture of violence and impunity continues. Partisan police investigation andprotracted trials inspire little faith in the criminal justice system. At thesame time human rights defenders are victimized through long spells ofincarceration in false and trumped up charges. They are prosecuted for criminaloffences and not recognised and treated as political prisoners. The Governmentmust demonstrate its intent to respect and protect the rights of those thatcontinue to struggle for human rights even in a climate of stigma and fear.
Eventhough the government has formulated new laws such as the Anti-Torture Act,constituted Units of Human Rights in the Armed Forces and the PhilippinesNational Police, a focal point for Human Rights Defenders in the Commission ofHuman Rights of the Philippines, the challenge of widespread and systematicimpunity remains. Plethora of laws and institutional mechanisms, purportedlyfor advancement of human rights, does not inspire confidence, as in theiractual working and practices those in position of political, economic andmilitary power continue to enjoy impunity.
In view of this situation, the Observatory for theProtection of Human Rights Defenders makes the following preliminary recommendations:
- The authorities of the Philippinesshould guarantee in all circumstances thephysical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders, and put anend to all acts of harassment against them.
- The actions of the PhilippinesGovernment and its institutions and agents must display respect for the UN Declarationon Human Rights Defenders and comply with international human rights andhumanitarian instruments ratified by the Philippines.
- Professional, independent, promptand impartial investigation by the police into all allegations of human rights violations,including those involving multinational corporations, as well as fair andspeedy trials, are necessary to ensure the observance of the rule of law, endimpunity and protect human rights defenders. The burden of accountability andto provide evidence and witness testimonies in cases of human rights violationslies with the State, not with the victim.
- The role of command responsibility in Government and amongforces in the security sector should also be diligently scrutinized in theperpetuation of impunity.
- Independent investigation andeffective prosecutions of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforceddisappearances can deter further attacks against human rights defenders.
- Government should recognise thathuman rights defenders have a legitimate role to play in ensuring peace,justice and democracy, and therefore should promote a dignification campaign ofhuman rights defenders and create administrative measures to address instanceswhere government officials indulge in vilification.
- Institutional mechanisms speciallymandated to determine the ancestral ownership of land and resources ofindigenous people needs urgent review, as there are serious allegations ofcorruption and collusion, compromising the rights of the indigenous people.
- The Commission of Human Rights ofPhilippines (CHRP) should create mechanisms for the recognition and protectionof human rights defenders, especially those working in high risk areas. Asproposed in the second Universal Periodic Review, measures should be adopted toenhance the capability both of the CHRP andof HRDs to promote and protect human rights through deputizing human rightsdefenders, including giving them the ‘privilege of visitation’.
- The Government should issue astanding invitation for all UN special mechanisms and procedures, specially theUN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders; Indigenous Peoples, andagainst Extrajudicial and Arbitrary Killings.
A mission report will be issued in the coming months and will presentdetailed conclusions and recommendations to the Government of The Philippines,non-State actors, the United Nations, the European Union and foreign embassies in ThePhilippines.
For further information,please contact:
· OMCT: Delphine Reculeau:+ 41 22 809 49 39
· FIDH: Arthur Manet / Audrey Couprie: + 33 1 43 55 25 18