UN expert calls for protection of rights workers in Philippines after killing of Zara Alvarez

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
UN expert calls for protection of rights workers in Philippines after killing of Zara Alvarez
Candles are lit for slain rights worker Zara Alvarez.
Karapatan, Handout

MANILA, Philippines — The killing of human rights worker Zara Alvarez should prompt the international community to establish an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines and initiate sanctions against government officials who committed abuses, a human rights experts said.

Alvarez, a paralegal of watchdog Karapatan and an advocacy officer of a community health program, was gunned down last week in Bacolod. She was laid to rest Wednesday.

The Palace has cautioned against blaming the killing on government agents, saying an investigation is ongoing. It has also said that the government denounces "any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists."

In a series of tweets, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard said human rights violations in the Philippines, which include the brutal war on drugs and attacks against activists and press, must stop.

“My heart cries out for Zara Alvarez, for her family, her friends, her colleagues, the people she served. WHAT WILL IT TAKE FOR THESE KILLINGS TO STOP? HOW MUCH MORE SORROW, GRIEF, PAIN CAN THE PEOPLE ENDURE?” Callamard said.



She noted that Alvarez, slain peace consultant Randall Echanis and Bayan Muna regional coordinator Jory Porquia, had been red-tagged — labeled as communist rebels and enemies of the state — before they were murdered.

The Commission on Human Rights also said that while the name of Alvarez was removed in the list of people that the Department of Justice wanted to legally declare as terrorists, “the exclusion still did not spare her from the ultimate violation of her rights—succumbing to death after being shot.”

“The Human Rights Council, the international community, must act now. They must do all they can to protect all the Zara Alvarez of the Philippines, those who give their life to protect that of others,” Callamard said.

Demands of UN experts

Last June, rights experts renewed their call to the United Nation’s Human Rights Council to create an on-the-ground investigation into human rights violations in the country. The Human Rights Council, made up of 47 UN member states, is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines has now reached a level of gravity requiring robust intervention by the UN. The Human Rights Council must do everything in its power to prevent the continuation of widespread and systematic human rights abuse against the Philippines people,” they said then.

They also called on member states to initiate, whenever possible, governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against government officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.

“Zara is the most painful and saddest reminder as to why these demands must be answered. Every month that passes, every day that goes by, there is one more arbitrary killing, one more Zara, one more, one more, one more. ENOUGH,” Callamard said.

After the killings of Echanis and Alvarez, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights said last week it is “saddened and appalled” by the violence and threats against human rights defenders in the country.

“Effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them,” it said.

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