Eight UN experts raise concerns on 'red-tagging' of rights workers

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Eight UN experts raise concerns on 'red-tagging' of rights workers
This file photo shows Karapatan protesting the killings of two of its members: Ryan Hubilla and Nelly Bagasala and peasant leader Nonoy Palma.
Karapatan / released

MANILA, Philippines — Eight United Nations human rights experts wrote to President Rodrigo Duterte to express concern on the government's “red tagging” of rights organizations in the country.

At the 43rd UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, eight independence UN experts sent a communication to Duterte raising concern on “the statements made by high-level  officials threatening human rights organizations and accusing them of having ties with the communist movement.”

They stressed that 62 individuals have been arrested following raids at the offices of civil society organizations and residence of rights groups members.

The communication, addressed to Duterte, was sent by:

  • UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Frost
  • Vice-Chair of the UN Working Group on Abritrary Detention Leigh Toomey
  • Chair-Rapporteur of the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances Luciano Hazan
  • Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression David Kaye
  • Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Clement Nyaletsossi Voule
  • Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms while countering terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin.
  • Chair-Rapporteur of the Working Group on discrimination against women and girls Meskerem Techane

Philippine jurisprudence defines red-tagging as “the act of labelling, branding, naming and accusing individuals and/or organizations of being left-leaning, subversives, communists or terrorists (used as) a strategy... by State agents, particularly law enforcement agencies and the military, against those perceived to be ‘threats’ or ‘enemies of the State.’”

Karapatan, whose secretary general Cristina Palabay is at the UN event, released a copy of the communication to reporters.

Threats, raids

Among the incidents the UN experts raised in the letter are rape and death threats against Palabay, the arrest of the 62 activists following raids in their offices and residence in Bacolod City, filing of the Philippine Department of Justice of a petition proscribing the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as ‘terrorist organizations’ where rights workers were tagged, abduction of Karapatan Southern Mindanao secretary general Honey Mae Suazo.

In their letter, the UN experts said red-tagging and actions of the State, “may have a chilling effect on the legitimate work of human rights defenders in the country.”

“In view of the urgency of the matter, we would appreciate a response on the initial steps taken by [Y]our Excellency’s Government to safeguard the rights of the above-mentioned persons in compliance with international instruments,” they added.

They urged that, pending the government’s reply, “all necessary interim measures be taken to halt the alleged violations and prevent their re-occurrence and in the event that the investigations support or suggest that the allegations to be correct, to ensure the accountability of any person responsible of the alleged violations.”

Andanar’s message to rights body

Palabay, who attended the gathering as co-head of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines, meanwhile said that Communication Secretary Martin Andanar’s message during the UNHRC session echoes what the UN experts said.

At the event, Communications Secretary Martin Andanar said: “We repeat the call for prudence in assessing claims, particularly from sources who have enjoyed the hallowed status of human rights defenders while waging the longest insurgency in Asia and terrorizing communities in the Philippines.”

Palabay said: “Philippine government officials have obviously disregarded the views of the eight special rapporteurs. They should be reminded that such acts are in violation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of Human Rights Defenders.”

Palabay and ten others are facing a revived perjury charge that stemmed from the complaint filed by National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr.

The accused are members of rights groups that sought protection from the courts against perceived threats from the State, but failed.

Esperon accused them of falsifying information in their amparo petition, specifically on Rural Missionaries of the Philippines’ Certificate of Registration, and sued them for perjury.




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