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UN experts urge Philippines to protect rights defenders from a growing wave of attacks and killings

Rights defenders in the Philippines

09 July 2012

GENEVA (9 July 2012) – Two United Nations Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders and extrajudicial executions called on the Government of the Philippines to adopt urgent measures to protect the life of rights defenders and to ensure they are able to carry out their important work. They also urged the authorities to carry out prompt, impartial and independent investigations into the growing number of threats and killings of rights defenders to hold perpetrators to account and to fight impunity.

Reports of killings and death threats against human rights defenders have increased significantly over the past few months, notably in Mindanao and in Eastern Visayas.

“A number of cases have been reported to our mandates involving death threats and, in the worst of cases, killings of human rights defenders since the killing of Fr. Fausto Tenorio in Mindanao last year,” said the independent experts, stressing that the rights defenders’ families are also subject to such violations. The Special Rapporteurs indicated these cases had been raised with the Government and that they are available to provide any technical assistance necessary to ensure a safe working environment for human rights defenders in the Philippines.

“Many of the cases involve individuals and organizations working to defend the right to a healthy environment,” said Margaret Sekaggya, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. “Disputes over land rights and campaigns against mining and dam projects infringing on the rights of local communities tend to be sensitive, and those defending such rights are often met with violence.”

While acknowledging the considerable economic interests present in this context, “the Government of the Philippines has the duty to protect and ensure other actors respect the rights of these human rights defenders,” she underscored.

Christof Heyns, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, stressed that “many of the death threats and killings taking place appear to be perpetrated by non-State actors. Paramilitary groups, death squads and corporate security guards feature prominently in this group.”

“The Philippines is required to protect its population against such groups, and its Government has a positive obligation to take effective measures to protect the right to life. Failure to do so is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” he noted. “We call upon the Government to urgently enact appropriate measures to this end.”

In particular, the UN Special Rapporteurs expressed great dismay about the case of Francisco Canayong, who was stabbed to death in Salcedo, Eastern Visayas on 1 May 2012. The authorities had been alerted of death threats against him and other human rights defenders a few weeks before the killing.

Ms. Sekaggya and Mr. Heyns also urged the authorities to urgently implement the recommendations* of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions from the 2007 report on the mandate’s visit to the Philippines. They called upon the authorities to respond positively to the request of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders to visit the country in order to assist the Government in improving the volatile situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines.

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