UN experts urged to probe Duterte’s threats vs human rights activists

Jodesz Gavilan

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UN experts urged to probe Duterte’s threats vs human rights activists
‘Coming from the President’s mouth, the threats can be taken as calls to the military and police forces…to escalate suppression and repression,’ says rights group Karapatan


MANILA, Philippines – A human rights group urged United Nations (UN) independent experts to investigate and issue statements and recommendations against the “unacceptable open threats” by President Rodrigo Duterte against human rights workers in the Philippines.

In the letters sent to UN special rapporteurs on March 1, Karapatan secretary general Tinay Palabay highlighted how the situation has worsened under Duterte when it comes to “attempts of state forces to intimidate and terrorize” human rights groups “into silence and passivity.”  

“Coming from the President’s mouth, the threats can be taken as calls to the military and police forces by their commander-in-chief to escalate suppression and repression of our organization,” she said.  

“We are being targeted for speaking out against the murderous and tyrannical Duterte regime,” Palabay added.

The “letters of allegations” were transmitted to:

  • Michel Frost, special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders
  • Annalisa Ciampi, special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association
  • David Kaye, special rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to rreedom of opinion and expression
  • Agnes Callamard, special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions

UN special rapporteurs can receive letters and communications of alleged abuses happening in a member-state. These can be transmitted to the UN Human Rights Council. 

‘Far worse attacks’

Duterte and his allies, according to critics, have “demonized” the concept of human rights. This comes as advocates continue to criticize the violations under his bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign that has led to at least 3,900 people dead in police operations alone. 

According to Karapatan, the vilification can lead to “far worse attacks.” In fact, the group identified 4 human rights workers killed under the Duterte administration: Karapatan Negros Oriental coordinator Elisa Badayos, Bicol paralegal Edwin Pura, Catholic priest Marcelito Paez, and Moro human rights activist Billamin Turabin Hasan.

“Please help us stop the political vilification against human rights defenders, lest they progress to far worse forms of attacks,” Palabay told UN experts. “Duterte’s all-too-familiar pronouncements usually come with far worse attacks and human rights and people’s rights violations.” 

This is not the first time Karapatan has sent letters to UN independent experts. In 2017, the group brought the high number of extrajudicial killings and the counter-insurgency program under the Duterte administration to the attention of Callamard and Forst.

“We will continue to exhaust all mechanism for redress and protection, and exact accountability from the Duterte regime and its state forces,” Palabay said. 

While it is expected that the administration – most probably through Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque – will deflect and deny the allegations, the group said that it “will not magically erase the numerous rights violations that this murderous government has committed.” (READ: Drug war in 2017: The year of deaths and denials)

“The Duterte regime and its mouthpieces are but cowards who like to maintain a tough facade, but are actually panic-stricken and scared of the findings being used to finally bring justice to the victims of this regime’s anti-people policies,” she added. – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.