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Indigenous peoples / Displacement: UN expert appalled at distortion of his views by Philippines Armed Forces

MANILA / GENEVA (13 August 2015) – In a statement of clarification, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons, Chaloka Beyani, today described the misrepresentation of his comments by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) on the situation of hundreds of internally displaced indigenous persons in Davao, Mindanao, as “incorrect, unacceptable and a gross distortion of my views.”

In a press release issued on 7 August, the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command misquoted Mr. Beyani as saying that the indigenous people in Davao City have not been displaced from their ancestral homes, but are victims of human trafficking. The Special Rapporteur conducted a ten-day official visit* to the Philippines at the invitation of the Government which concluded on 31 July.

During my recent official visit to the Philippines, representatives of the AFP informed me of their assessment that the indigenous persons concerned in Davao City were victims of trafficking in persons and were being held against their will in the United Church of Christ in the Philippines Haran facility.

Let me be absolutely clear, the indigenous persons in Davao are not victims of human trafficking. I was explicit in my discussions with the senior AFP representatives on multiple occasions, and indeed at my Press Conference that the indigenous persons concerned should under no circumstances be considered to fall into the category of trafficked persons.

The indigenous peoples whom I interviewed informed me that they relocated to this facility freely and in response to the militarization of their lands and territories and forced recruitment into paramilitary groups operating under the auspices of the AFP. My reference to their being ‘manipulated’ related to the attempt to forcibly move them out of the UCCP facility without proper and adequate consultation with them.

I therefore consider that the AFP statement by the Eastern Mindanao Command (Eastmincom) in its news release of 7 August that the lumads (Indigenous People) in Davao City are victims of human trafficking is incorrect, unacceptable, and represents a gross distortion of my views on this issue.

At the end of my visit on 31 July, I called for a peaceful resolution of the situation in full consultation with the indigenous peoples concerned and their legitimate leaders. It is essential to avoid any form of manipulation of their situation by any party, governmental or non-governmental. The human rights, security and wishes of the indigenous peoples themselves must be the highest priority. No attempts should be made to forcibly remove the people from the UCCP facility.

In my official exit statement of 31 July I highlighted that indigenous peoples have been particularly vulnerable to conflict-induced displacement in many regions, particularly in Mindanao. I noted my concern at the plight of hundreds of indigenous peoples currently living in basic United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) run facilities in the city of Davao having been displaced from their ancestral homes for several months due to long-standing conflict between the government and the New People’s Army (NPA) in their region.

During my visit, I travelled to Davao to consult the national and local authorities and the indigenous peoples themselves on this situation. I heard from the AFP its assertion that it is seeking to protect the communities and provide services to them in conflict regions; however the displaced IPs made it clear that it is their presence and that of the paramilitary groups in their communities that continues to create anxiety amongst the indigenous communities.

The community wishes to return to its lands but stressed to me that they will only feel safe to do so if the long-term militarization of their region comes to an end and they can return with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection.

They described to me their concerns including their alleged forced recruitment into paramilitary groups, known as Alamara, under the auspices of the AFP and harassment in the context of the on-going conflict between the AFP and the NPA. Schools have reportedly been closed and/or occupied by the AFP or Alamara, hampering the access to education of indigenous children.

While tribal leaders informed me that they are not being detained against their will at the UCCP centre in Davao, as is evident by reports of their periodic return to their communities, their current situation is neither acceptable nor sustainable. It is essential to find a rapid and peaceful solution to their situation in full consultation with their legitimate leaders, with their voluntary and secure return to their ancestral lands being a high priority.

I urged the Government, in consultation with indigenous peoples themselves, to give greater attention to addressing the causes of displacement whether it be due to the militarization of their areas or due to development projects.”  

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s full end-of-mission statement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=16280&LangID=E

Mr. Chaloka Beyani, professor of international law at the London School of Economics, was appointed Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Internally Displaced Persons by the Human Rights Council in September 2010. Learn more, visit: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/IDPersonsIndex.aspx

The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

Check the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/IDPersons/Pages/Standards.aspx

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Graham Fox (+41 22 917 9640 / gfox@ohchr.org) or write to idp@ohchr.org

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts:
Xabier Celaya, UN Human Rights – Media Unit (+ 41 22 917 9383 / xcelaya@ohchr.org)  

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Check the Universal Human Rights Index: http://uhri.ohchr.org/en