Slain rights worker Zara Alvarez laid to rest
Zara Alvarez, 39, worked for human rights group Karapatan and was a advocacy officer for a community-based health program. She was shot dead on Monday, Aug. 17, 2020 in Bacolod City.
Zara Alvarez's Facebook account
Slain rights worker Zara Alvarez laid to rest
Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - August 26, 2020 - 3:21pm

MANILA, Philippines — Slain Karapatan paralegal Zara Alvarez was laid to rest on Monday amid growing calls for justice and independent investigation into human rights killings in the country.

Alvarez was gunned down in a private village in Bacolod City on August 17. She was the 13th rights worker of Karapatan and, according to a United Nations expert among the more than 200 human rights defenders killed since the start of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration.

“Today, we bury and honor Zara, a fierce and determined human rights defender, with strong indignation. As we grieve the loss of one of our colleagues, we do not relent in our calls for justice and an independent and impartial probe on her killing,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

In her short life, Alvarez had led campaigns against human rights violations, served as advocacy officer of a community health program and paralegal of Karapatan.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-Panay Chapter honored Alvarez for helping them in cases of human rights violations in Negros islands that, in 2018 and 2019, saw several killings.

“From Canlaon to Manjuyod, Sta. Catalina, Sagay, Escalante, Kabankalan, and Bacolod—wherever famers, peasant leaders, and rights advocates were imprisoned or killed—Zara was there to help the victims and their families get through the hardships brought by state-sponsored terror,” the lawyers’ group said last week.

Alvarez’s name was reportedly included in the more than 600 people tagged in the Department of Justice’s proscription petition in 2018, hundreds of names from which were later removed. She was also included in the red-tagging posters that circulated in Bacolod City along with other activists and human rights lawyer Benjamin Ramos, who was killed in 2018.

The red-tagging and threats that Alvarez said she was receiving in the days leading to the day of the killing did not deter her from human rights work.

Bulatlat.com reported that on the night of her cold-blooded killing, Alvarez had been preparing for the arraignment of a political prisoner. She had been coordinating with the lawyer and the family of the accused.

Impartial investigation sought

Palabay said that Alvarez suffered years-long harassment from State forces that ranged “from trumped-up charges and imprisonment to death threats and even judicial terror-tagging.”

“There could be no other culprits behind this brutal and cowardly act that the fascist butchers of the State,’ Palabay added.

She reiterated her call for an independent and impartial investigation into the killing of Alvarez’s murder that should cover State forces, “precisely because of the pattern of threats and vilification she and other slain human rights workers had been subjected to from the police and the military.”

READ: DOJ task force set to probe activist Alvarez's killing; initial report expected in a month

Karapatan was among the groups that sought the issuance of a protection writ from  the court but failed. Palabay and other rights leaders instead were dragged back to court over revived perjury charges stemming from a complaint from by National Security Adviser Hermones Esperon Jr. for supposedly lying in their petition for writ of amparo previously filed before the Supreme Court.

The Department of Justice’s Administrative Order 35 Task Force, the panel looking into politically-motivated killing, is one of the agencies conducting a probe into the case—but Karapatan had earlier expressed doubts in the panel, noting that it failed to make substantial progress in past investigations.

United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnas Callamard also urged the international community to establish an investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines and initiate sanctions against government officials who committed abuses.

The Commission on Human Rights said the killing of Alvarez shows the danger of red-tagging as it launched a motu propio (on its own initiative) investigation into the case.

Palabay stressed: “Only through an independent and impartial probe can we bring the perpetrators to justice.” — with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico

EXTRAJUDICIAL KILLINGS KARAPATAN ZARA ALVAREZ
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