Human rights groups face 'alarming, shameful level' of gov't retaliation – UN report

CANDLES FOR PEACE. Activists and families of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs and political killings light candles on top photos of their departed.

File photo by Maria Tan/Rappler

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights defenders and activists worldwide are suffering from “an alarming and shameful level of harsh reprisals and intimidation” from their own governments, a United Nations (UN) report released on Wednesday, September 12, said

The Philippines is among the 38 countries included in the report.

The report said “defamatory and intimidating public statements” were recorded in the Philippines against the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) and other groups “because of...human rights monitoring work and cooperation with the United Nations.”  

“The Commission has received threats of being defunded or abolished and has been vilified in the media as a hindrance to the implementation of government policies,” the report said.

“When commissioners travel for work purposes they are reportedly monitored, which has affected their engagement with the UN," it added.

It also highlighted the arrest of opposition Senator Leila De Lima and the efforts to tag the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army (CPP-NPA) as a terrorist group under the Human Security Act of 2007. (READ: The end of the affair? Duterte’s romance with the Reds) 

“It is reported that among these are least 80 recognized human rights defenders, indigenous peoples’ representatives, and representatives of community-based organizations,” UN said. “This is the first time the Human Security Act of 2007 has been used against numerous activists.” 

Human rights groups had slammed the DOJ petition as a "government hit list."

In August 2018, the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 19 cleared at least 4 people, including UN Special Rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, from the government petition seeking to declare them as terrorists. The court, however, will continue proceedings toward the tagging of the CPP-NPA. 

No official response from gov’t

According to the report, the individuals being tagged as terrorists have long been coordinating with  the UN. 

“They have been long-standing partners of the United Nations who believe their inclusion on this list is in part due to their international advocacy with the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, the universal periodic review, the treaty bodies, and the special procedures,” it said. 

In fact, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour already expressed concerned through a letter to the Philippine government that placing these individuals on a terrorist list may “constitute a reprisal for their engagement with the United Nations human rights system.” 

Despite the UN and its experts continually sending communications since 2007, the Philippine government has yet to reply. (READ: The Impunity Series)

President Rodrigo Duterte, however, has continually called out the UN along with other human rights groups that have criticized his violent campaign against illegal drugs and efforts to silence critics. (READ: What are the roles of United Nations special rapporteurs?)

‘Tip of the iceberg’

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres is expected to present the report, which details retaliation experienced by groups, before the UN Human Rights Council next week.

Assistant Rights Chief Andrew Gilmour said “the cases of reprisals and intimidation detailed in this report and its two annexes represent the tip of the iceberg” as there are “many more are reported to us.” 

Gilmour urged the government to enact policies that would assure that no defender will be punished for his or her advocacy.

“But shock and anger must translate into real action,” he said. “Governments can do much more to stop reprisals, ensure that they do not recur, and hold those responsible to account for their actions.” – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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