UN rights office calls for independent probe into killings of human rights defenders in PH

August 21, 2020 9:53 PM PHT
Michelle Abad – Rappler.com
MANILA, Philippines

‘We are saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders in the Philippines,’ says the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on Friday, August 21, called for “independent” and “thorough” investigations into the recent killings of two human rights defenders in the Philippines.

The OHCHR was referring to agrarian reform advocate Randall “Randy” Echanis and human rights worker Zara Alvarez, who were killed within days of each other. Echanis suffered around 40 stab wounds while Alvarez was shot dead.

“We are saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders in the Philippines, including the killing of two human rights defenders over the past two weeks,” OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssel said in a statement Friday.

“We welcome the statement from the Presidential Palace denouncing ‘any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists’ and note that investigations into both cases are underway,” she added.

Anakpawis chair Echanis, 72, was among those accused of killing 67 individuals in the alleged purging within the ranks of the New People’s Army more than 20 years ago in Leyte. They were arraigned for murder before a Manila court in 2015.

Echanis had a long career of advocacy work in fighting against injustice and inequality, stemming from his days as a student.

Alvarez, 39, was imprisoned for almost two years. After her release, she worked as Karapatan’s paralegal and as research and advocacy officer of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program, according to the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan-Negros group.

Before being shot by a lone gunman in Bacolod, Alvarez asked for protective writs. She died before the court could give it to her.

Both Echanis and Alvarez were among the more than 600 people that the Department of Justice wanted to declare as terrorists in a proscription case filed in February 2018.

Following Alvarez’s murder, her colleague Clarizza Singson received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next.

“The UN Human Rights Office stresses the need for independent, thorough, and transparent investigations into the killings and for those responsible to be held to account. Effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them,” said Throssel.

The OHCHR also called on the Philippine government to ensure that relevant agencies fully cooperate with investigations led by the country’s Commission on Human Rights.

The administration under President Rodrigo Duterte has long been conducting a crackdown on people whom they tag as communists or terrorists. Government platforms were also found to be red-tagging the media.

With the anti-terrorism law in place, human rights groups warn of further dangers this could mean for ordinary people who voice dissent. – Rappler.com

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