UN office seeks effective measures to protect rights workers in Philippines

Ratziel San Juan - Philstar.com
UN office seeks effective measures to protect rights workers in Philippines
From left: Peasant activist and peace consultant Randall Echanis, human rights worker Zara Alvarez
Anakpawis / Released, Karapatan / Released

MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday called on the Philippine government to ensure accountability for the recent killings of two human rights defenders in the country.

Elderly peasant activist Randall Echanis was stabbed to death in his Quezon City home on August 10 while rights worker Zara Alvarez was shot dead a week later in Bacolod City.

“The UN Human Rights Office stresses the need for independent, thorough and transparent investigations into the killings and for those responsible to be held to account. Effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them,” UN OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell said in a statement.

The office called on the government to ensure that relevant agencies cooperate with the Commission on Human Rights in its investigations.

Throssell noted that both Echanis and Alvarez were repeatedly "red-tagged" — the labeling of activists as rebels or enemies of the state — in relation to their work.

The two were previously included in the Department of Justice's list of over 600 people it intended to legally designate as terrorists in 2018.

“While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year. Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists that is cited in the High Commissioner’s report,” Throssell said.

The office also denounced "ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders" in the country, mentioning how after Alvarez was murdered, her colleague Clarizza Singson received a death threat on social media.

“This is particularly worrying as Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster.”

The OHCHR has since raised its concerns with the Philippine government and the Commission on Human Rights.

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