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Philippines: UN experts urge probe into killings of three Indigenous peoples’ rights defenders

Philippines / Indigenous peoples’ rights

22 September 2015

GENEVA (22 September 2015) – The United Nations Special Rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, and on the situation of human rights defenders, Michel Forst, today called on the Philippines Government to launch a full and independent investigation into the killings of three human rights defenders in Surigao del Sur, Mindanao, which is currently affected by armed conflicts.

One of the human rights defenders killed was the director of the Alternative Learning Center for Agriculture and Development (ALCADEV), a school providing education to indigenous youth who live in the mountains and service communities in the CARAGA region. He was found murdered in one of the ALCADEV classrooms in the town of Sitio Han-ayan on 1 September.

This occurred immediately after members of the Philippine Army and alleged members of paramilitary forces had occupied the school’s function hall as well as its grounds, and after members of the paramilitary had detained the director. As a result of the forced occupation by the Philippine Army and paramilitary troops of the school’s premises, 2,000 residents have had to evacuate to nearby Tandag City.

“Military occupation of civilian institutions and killing of civilians, particularly in places such as schools which should remain safe havens for children from this type of violence, are unacceptable,  deplorable and contrary to international human rights and international humanitarian standards,” the Special Rapporteurs said.

Two other representatives of the Manobo community, including a tribal chieftain and the chairperson of MAPASU, an indigenous (Lumad) organization protesting against human rights violations, mining operations and land conversions, were shot in front of their community members by alleged paramilitary forces.

Following the murders, the military is hindering the access of indigenous communities from spending long periods of time needed for tilling in the mountains where their farms are located. The communities are also denied access to the sacred burial sites also located in those mountains. 

The incident followed another set of brutal murders which took place on 18 August in Mendis, Pangantucan, Bukidnon, Northern Mindanao where five members of an indigenous Manobo family, including a 72 year old blind person and two children, were murdered, allegedly by members of the Philippine Army.

“We take note of the announcement made today at the Human Rights Council in Geneva by the delegation of the Philippines that an investigation is underway,” they said. “We urge the Philippines authorities to ensure that such investigation into these tragic events be carried out independently to identify and bring perpetrators to justice, to ensure the safe return of the indigenous peoples displaced by the recent violent events, and guarantee redress to the victims’ families in compliance with their indigenous traditions and the demilitarization and restoration of peace in regions affected by armed conflicts including in Surigao del Sur and Bukidnon.”

The Special Rapporteurs expressed serious concern about the increasingly pervasive insecurity and rising unlawful killings of human rights activists in the conflict-prone regions of the Philippines. Mr. Forst urged the Government to finally accept his repeated requests to visit the country in order to assess, in the spirit of dialogue and cooperation, the environment in which human rights defenders operate in the Philippines. 

The experts’ call has been endorsed by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns.

The Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz (Philippines), is a human rights activist working on indigenous peoples’ rights. Her work for more than three decades has been focused on movement building among indigenous peoples and also among women, and she has worked as an educator-trainer on human rights, development and indigenous peoples in various contexts. She is a member of the Kankana-ey, Igorot indigenous peoples in the Cordillera Region in the Philippines.

Mr. Michel Forst (France) was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders in June 2014. Michel Forst has extensive experience on human rights issues and particularly on the situation of human rights defenders. In particular, he was the Director General of Amnesty International (France) and Secretary General of the first World Summit on Human Rights Defenders in 1998.

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.

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