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UN urged to address rights abuses in the Philippines

Serious civic freedom violations continue despite rights council's resolution, says CIVICUS

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: September 30, 2021 04:18 AM GMT

Updated: September 30, 2021 04:43 AM GMT

UN urged to address rights abuses in the Philippines

Police officers and medical personnel take the bodies of nine indigenous group leaders to a hospital in Tapaz in the Philippines last December. They were shot dead by security forces after being accused of being communist rebels. (Photo: Ian Paul Cordero)

CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, is calling on the UN Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigative mechanism to address human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines to further accountability and justice.

A new brief published on Sept. 30 shows that one year on from the adoption of a weak resolution at the council, serious civic freedom violations continue to occur, creating a chilling effect within civil society.

The CIVICUS Monitor has documented the arbitrary arrest and detention of human rights defenders and activists on fabricated charges. In some instances, the activists have been vilified and red-tagged — labeled as communists or terrorists — in relation to their work prior to their arrest. There have also been reports of evidence planted by the police and military to justify arrests or violence against activists.

Activists have been killed over the last year, both by security forces and unknown individuals. In many instances, activists were killed after being red-tagged. In virtually none of the cases has anyone been held accountable for the killings.

In one incident, nine community-based activists were killed in coordinated raids, known as the "Bloody Sunday" killings, which took place across four provinces in the Calabarzon region on March 7 by members of the security forces. The killing of journalists as well as judicial harassment against them has also persisted.

In July, the Philippine government and the UN formalized a human rights program which includes strengthening domestic investigation and accountability mechanisms, improved data gathering on alleged police violations, civic space and engagement with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights to be implemented.

It is time for the international community to listen to civil society voices and establish an independent investigation to hold the perpetrators to account

“The current actions by the UN Human Rights Council have failed to deter the criminalization and attacks against activists and journalists, which has continued over the year, with impunity. The new joint program seems to be just more window dressing by the Duterte regime to evade accountability,” said Lisa Majumdar, CIVICUS UN advocacy officer.

“It is time for the international community to listen to civil society voices and establish an independent investigation to hold the perpetrators to account.”

Human rights groups have also documented an assault on the judiciary. An investigative report by the Free Legal Assistance Group found that at least 61 lawyers, judges and prosecutors have been killed under the Duterte administration since 2016. There have been no convictions so far in any of the deadly attacks recorded.

The new brief outlines other tactics used to silence civil society that range from freezing their accounts to launching smear campaigns against them. In June, the Anti-Money Laundering Council froze the bank accounts of Amihan, an organization of peasant women, which the authorities alleged were linked to communist rebels.

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Bank accounts of eight other NGOs and civil society groups based in Mindanao were also covered by the order.

Human rights alliance Karapatan has been subject to a spate of cyberattacks since July against its website, amid an online solidarity campaign #StopTheKillingsPH, which calls on the government to stop attacks against human rights defenders.

Earlier attacks against Karapatan and alternative media outlets were traced by Qurium, a Sweden-based media foundation, to the Office of the Assistant Chief of Staff for Intelligence of the Philippine Army as well as the Department of Science and Technology.

“Civil society groups have been at the forefront of monitoring violations perpetrated by authorities around the deadly war on drugs and their assaults on activists. Despite the threats and litany of attacks against them, they have refused to be silenced. The international community owes them support and protection,” said Majumdar.

Following research and advocacy efforts by civil society, in June, International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested judicial authorization to proceed with an investigation into crimes committed in the Philippines from Nov. 1, 2011 — the date the Philippines became an ICC member — until March 16, 2019. On Sept. 15, the ICC granted the prosecutor’s request to start the investigation in a landmark development.

In December 2020, the CIVICUS Monitor, a global research collaboration that rates and tracks respect for fundamental freedoms in 196 countries, downgraded the Philippines from "obstructed" to "repressed" in its People Power Under Attack report 2020.

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