Philippines among countries with rising reprisals against rights activists
In this September 25, 2018 photo, members of local rights group Karapatan condemn the killing of human rights defender Mariam Uy Acob.
Facebook/Karapatan, released
Philippines among countries with rising reprisals against rights activists
Patricia Lourdes Viray ( - September 23, 2019 - 10:18am

MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations named the Philippines among 48 countries linked to growing reprisals against victims, members of civil society and activists in the field of human rights.

In a report released last Thursday, the UN Human Rights Council detailed the cases of each country, noting the continued reports of intimidation and reprisals designed to intimidate individuals or groups seeking to cooperate with the UN.

UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Andrew Gilmour said there are some severe cases of authorities threatening and harassing family members of activists.

"Some governments seem prepared to go to almost any lengths to punish people who cooperate with us. This may underscore the justice of the victims' causes," Gilmour said in the report.

Other countries on the list are Algeria, Bahamas, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Benin, Bolivia, Burundi, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Djibouti, Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Guatemala, Honduras, Hungary, India, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Mali, Malta, Mauritania, Mexico, Morocco, Myanmar, Nicaragua, Poland, Russian Federation, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, State of Palestine, Thailand, Tunisia, Turkmenistan, United Arab Emirates, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Viet Nam and Yemen.

CHR under surveillance

The report included allegations of reprisals against the Philippines' Commission on Human Rights (CHR), noting that members of the body continue to be under surveillance by state agents as of May 2019.

Members of the CHR also experience threats against their lives and security amid calls for the resignation, according to the report.

"Chairperson Mr. Chitso Gascon has been particularly targeted as head of the Commission, with a State agent reportedly assigned to follow his movements," the report read.

Last June, the Philippine government responded to this allegation, pointing out that it has "further cultivated conditions and environment" for the CHR by increasing its budget.

The UNHRC also listed the case of Sen. Leila de Lima, who has been under detention for alleged drug-related offenses since February 2018.

The UN rights body pointed out that De Lima's arrest was "politically motivated" as she has been critical of the Duterte administration.

With De Lima, the government stressed that it is "improper" for the UN to intervene on the senator's detention and prosecution "for the independence and impartiality of the judicial process."

Human rights defenders subjected to harassment

While the supposed list of the Department of Justice named over 600 individuals as de facto "terrorists" had been revised, many of those previously listed still report being targets of harassment, surveillance and stigmatization.

The DOJ issued this list last year in its bid to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and its armed wing New People's Army as "terrorist" organizations. The persons included in the list were mostly human rights defenders, indigenous peoples' representatives and representatives of community-based organizations.

The UNHRC report noted that among those on the list were past and current human rights defenders from Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights.

Karapatan members reportedly continued to experience threats, harassment and intimidation against them and their partners in April.

"They noted, in particular, the 'red-tagging' (Executive Oder 70), which attempted to discredit the reports Karapatan sends to the UN as a basis for smear and vilification campaigns, and the terrorist-labeling of organizations in line with the Government's counterinsurgency program," the report read.

Government condemns reprisals by non-state actors

In response to the UNHRC report, the Philippine government condemned all acts of intimidation and reprisals committed by governments and non-state actors.

Vice Consul Majella Cristy Pua-Diezmos of the Philippine Mission noted the need for the international community to exercise due diligence in dealing with "parties who have abused the good faith of the UN system," referring to the CPP-NPA.

Pua-Diezmos accused the communist group of masquerading as human rights defenders while carrying out terrorism and crime.

"Evidence was presented on how the CPP-NPA, a terrorist group, and its front organizations, have perpetrated systemic atrocities among its followers and indigenous communities in the Philippines for decades," the vice-consul said.

Pua-Diezmos asked Gilmour, who prepared the report, on his views on best practices to address intimidations and reprisals committed by non-state actors.

The Philippine envoy also stressed that the UNHRC needs more discussions on the use of national security arguments and counter-terrorism to justify reprisals.

“Our conversation should be informed by the fact that terrorism is a grave matter whose full repercussions on the human rights of individuals and communities are understood only by those who have suffered and continue to suffer from it," she said. — with a report from PNA

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