Rights advocates continue to do mandate despite threats, group tells Duterte

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Rights advocates continue to do mandate despite threats, group tells Duterte
In this September 21, 2017 photo, an activist shouts slogans during a protest against President Rodrigo Duterte near Malacañan in Manila.
AFP / Noel Celis, File

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights groups continue to defend the rights of individuals and communities despite the threats hurled by those in power, Amnesty International Philippines stressed Wednesday.

The rights watchdog made the statement after President Rodrigo Duterte accused human rights groups of seeking to undermine the government.

“For you, human rights [defenders] is ‘the government is the enemy.’ You want to destroy the government,” Duterte said in Filipino, adding that human rights groups should also condemn the killing of innocent people by criminals.

In response, Butch Olano, AI Philippines section director, said that human rights groups here and abroad “have not stopped working even as leaders such as Duterte continue to spew hate rhetoric against various sectors—women, the poor, indigenous peoples, the international community and again recently to human rights groups.”

“We stay focused with our work, despite threats, in order to make sure that hate speeches do not get translated into oppressive policies and unfair treatment. The president should also just stick to what the people have mandated him to do,” Olano said.

Earlier, local rights group Karapatan said that only tyrants and human rights violators would accused rights defenders of trying to destroy the government.

“It is actually those in government who order, encourage and perpetuate extrajudicial killings, illegal or arbitrary arrests, rape, torture and other grave violations as well as those who engender impunity and poverty and promote the sell-out of our country’s patrimony, who are considered by the people as their enemies,” Karapatan said.

Local and international groups have condemned the administration’s war on drugs—which they said claimed lives of more than 12,000 individuals—and the president’s controversial statements on women and other sectors.

Last December, United Nations special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst called on the Philippine government to end all forms of violations against rights advocates.

He stressed that public stigmatization of human rights defenders “can incite perpetrators to act against them and instead to publicly recognize the legitimacy and importance of their work.”

Human rights defenders are portrayed by officials, including Duterte, as idiots and as obstacles to progress and peace and order in the Philippines.

The Commission on Human Rights—itself a frequent target of Duterte and his supporters—admitted in an interview in June that “it is a challenge for the commission right now to change public perception and to convey that human rights is non-partisan and we are not anti-government nor do we take a contrary stance against the government.”

While Duterte often dismisses human rights as a concept imposed on the country by the west, the Philippines is a signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human Right, adopted and accepted as international law in 1948.

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