Int'l network of rights defenders calls for independent probe into activists' killings

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Int'l network of rights defenders calls for independent probe into activists' killings
In this photo taken August 18, 2020, Anakpawis holds 'Candle Lighting for Justice' for slain activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez.
Anakpawis / Release

MANILA, Philippines — An international network of human rights advocates called on the Philippine government to conduct a prompt and impartial investigation into the killings of rights workers in the country.

The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) wrote a letter to President Rodrigo Duterte expressing its “profound concern” over the killings of activists Randall Echanis and Zara Alvarez. ESCR-Net is a global network of organizations devoted to achieving economic, social, cultural and environmental justice through human rights.

Peasant activist Echanis was brutally killed in his rented Quezon City apartment on August 10. Forensic pathologist Raquel Fortun said the elderly peace consultant suffered several punctures and stab wounds before he was deliberately stabbed fatally.

Rights worker Alvarez was gunned down a week later in Bacolod City.

Both Echanis and Alvarez were included in the list of more than 600 people that the government wanted to legally declare as terrorists in 2018. Their names were later removed.

ESCR-Net said these killings appeared to be “part of a wider pattern of attacks” on human rights defenders in the Philippines

“These killings occur in a context of extreme hostility toward human rights defenders expressed through defamation campaigns and harmful rhetoric from the highest levels of government, including the so-called ‘red-tagging’ or being labelled as communists or terrorists,” ESCR-Net said.

“We wish to recall that the government of the Philippines has an obligation to promote, respect, protect and fulfil human rights in accordance with international standards and national laws,” it added.

Aside from calling for a probe into the killings of rights defenders, the international network also asked the government to end “hostile rhetoric” against and red-tagging of activists and stop the criminalization of human rights workers.

It also urged the government to rescind the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which is feared to be used as a tool to suppress dissent and target opponent of the administration.

“The newly-enacted Anti-Terror Act raises serious concerns relating to human rights safeguards and grants the government excessive and unchecked powers to crack down on perceived threats based on a vague and nebulous definition of terrorism,” ESCR-Net said.

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