Geneva, Switzerland – Filipina human rights defenders and activists from the Philippines submitted statements at the 43rd UN Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, Switzerland, in relation to the reports of the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders and on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism. 

In his report, UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst voiced his concern on the “wide-ranging and cumulative violation” of the rights of defenders, including extrajudicial killings, criminalisation, violations on freedom of association and expression, and gender-based violence,” especially those operating in conflict and post-conflict situations.  

Clarissa Ramos, executive director of peasant-environmental group Paghida-et sa Kauswagan Development Group (PDG) and widow of slain human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos of NUPL, said in her statement that several human rights defenders in Negros island were arrested in the course of alleged anti-communist raids of offices of non-governmental organizations by State forces. The Negros island is one of the counter-insurgency priority areas of the Philippine government where an armed conflict is ongoing between the Philippine government and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines.

“Women defenders face misogynist attacks, driven by discriminatory pronouncements of government officials. Even as defenders in the Philippines strive to work for a just and lasting peace and monitor violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law, we are being wrongfully tagged as terrorists and are thus considered fair targets. Thus, we experience relentless persecution and stigmatisation, judicial harassment, threats to our colleagues, families and communities, and freezing of bank accounts. A hyper-state of impunity exists in our country, where principles of human and people’ rights, justice and accountability are ignored,” Ramos stated.  

Meanwhile, the women defenders welcomed the recommendation of Special Rapporteur Fionnuala Aolain on counter-terrorism enjoining States not to use national security practices, including those aimed at preventing or countering terrorism, to stifle peaceful political dissidence, criticism or non-violent protest or for prosecuting individuals engaged in non-violent expression and advocacy. 

“We welcome the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation, as we hope that it will be heeded by member States, including the Philippines, where counter-insurgency programs and anti-terror laws have been used to justify extrajudicial killings, legal bullying and threats against human rights defenders, including women and environmental activists. Ongoing efforts in parliament to amend this legislation will result in more draconian provisions with overbroad and vague definitions of terrorism and violent extremism. Versions of the proposed measures contains provisions that will legalize surveillance, warrantless arrests and detention, cruel and disproportionate punishment including death penalty, and violations on the right to freedom of association, free expression, privacy, mobility and to due process,” Cullamat explained.

Ramos stated that the UN HRC and the Philippines should ensure that all domestic legislation recognizing and protecting human rights defenders are enacted, including the long-overdue legislation in the Philippines, while those that run counter to international human rights law and international humanitarian law should be reviewed, amended or rescinded. 

“We also call on all actors working for genuine peace to support the peace processes in the Philippines, including that with the National Democratic Front of the Philippines, to pave the way for the resolution of the roots of the armed conflict. We likewise support the Special Rapporteur’s recommendation to enable his official visit to countries in conflict situations such as the Philippines,” Ramos stated. 

Rep. Cullamat and Clarissa are part of the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) delegation composed of representatives from civil society and people’s organizations engaging with the UNHRC on the human rights situation in the Philippines in the 43rd session. 

Gov’t delegation painting Geneva ‘Red’

Meanwhile, at today’s UNHRC session, the Philippine Mission said human rights organizations in the Philippines are under the Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army-National Democratic Front of the Philippines. 

The Philippine government representatives also alluded that these groups recruit so-called child soldiers in the Philippines.

EcuVoice however denounced these statements as “wild, irrelevant and diversionary” and is derided in the halls of Palais des Nations by various country Missions, human rights officers of UN special mechanisms and international NGOs as a “tired, worn-out” shotgun response to serious allegations of rights violations, according to Cristina Palabay, co-head of the EcuVoice delegation.

“Instead of frontally answering questions and concerns and rather than credibly contesting persistent and consistent reports of grave violations of human rights by the Duterte adminstration, our government and its representatives are painting Geneva red with their tangential tactic of slanderous smear campaigns against human rights defenders who are here to validate and elaborate in person what the international community already knows,” EcuVoice team leader Atty. Edre Olalia said.


Edre U. Olalia
Head of Ecuvoice Delegation to the 43rd UNHRC Session

Cristina E. Palabay
Secretary General, Karapatan
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