Karapatan's Palabay awarded Franco-German prize for rights work, advocacy

Karapatan's Palabay awarded Franco-German prize for rights work, advocacy
German Ambassador Anke Reiffenstuel and French Ambassador Michèle Boccoz present the 2021 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law to Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay on December 15, 2021.

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights defender Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, is among 15 awardees of the 2021 Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law for her work in protecting and promoting rights in the Philippines and globally.

Awardees are picked from among individuals jointly nominated by French and German embassies around the world. The prize, first given in 2016, recognizes "those who work tirelessly every day to advance the causes of human rights and the rule of law."

Palabay, in her speech at the awarding, said that she shares the recognition with other rights workers — including some in attendance who had survived the Martial Law era.

"As we continue to confront the same woes of yesteryears now and in the upcoming elections, let us all be reminded that these heroes' lives are testament not only to documented atrocities, but likewise to the continuing struggle for a free and truly democratic Philippines," she said.

The UN Human Rights Office in a 2020 report noted that "human rights defenders have been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment for nearly 20 years." 

Vilification of dissent as well as attacks against perceived critics of the government has also been "increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse," the report also said.

'They tried to bury us'

"The fact that we are here before you now, continuing our work despite the dangers, and with many defenders continuing to battle with injustices – this strength has more than kept me going," Palabay said.

There have been efforts in Congress to pass a bill that would protect human rights defenders and hold those who attack them accountable. The government's anti-communist task force has opposed the bill, saying there is no need for it and that it would put people they have linked to terrorism on a council for the protection of human rights defenders.

Referencing a quote from Greek poet Dinos Christianopoulos that is often used in protests, Palabay said: "They tried to bury us—human rights workers who work and struggle with communities that have been deprived of rights, freedoms, and liberties." 

"They didn't know we are seeds: The kind of seeds that grow in the most brutal environment of political storms."

Human rights defenders, she said, are "the kind of seeds that blossom into something that is beyond the self into something that is cognizant of our nation’s history of struggles."

Human rights 'challenged and pressured' globally

The award is meant to show the commitment of France and Germany to the protection and promotion of human rights. German Ambassador to the Philippines Anke Reiffenstuel said that rights workers and the idea of human rights are "increasingly being challenged and pressured" around the world.

Rights workers, she said, are "often struggling to keep the status quo" and prevent a further erosion of basic rights. 

"Human rights defenders deserve our admiration and our support," French Ambassador to the Philippines Michèle Boccoz said as she praised Palabay and other like her who "have remained strong and inspiring even in the face of danger."

The Philippine government has maintained that it respects and protects human rights. It has also rejected concerns from abroad about alleged rights violations in the Philippines as interference in domestic issues.

Palabay is the third Filipina to be awarded the prize in the five years that it has been given out.  

Rosemarie Trajano of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates Secretary General and Mary Aileen Bacalso of the Asian Federation against Involuntary Disappearances were honorees in 2017 and in 2019.




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