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Philippine government labels human rights defenders “terrorists”

On 21 February 2018, the Philippines State Prosecutor of the Department of Justice filed a petition in a Manila court to declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army as terrorist organisations. The petition includes the names of more than 600 people, who the government claims are communist guerrillas.

Included on the list are indigenous leaders and human rights defenders from the Cordillera region, including Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, and Joan Carling, Co-convener of the Indigenous Peoples Major Group on the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Indigenous Peoples Major Group has set up a petition asking the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte to remove the names of indigenous peoples’ leaders and human rights defenders from the list of alleged terrorists. Click on the image below to sign the petition:

Tauli-Corpuz put out a press statement on 8 March 2018:

Statement of Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples

I just got the information that my name has been included in a petition of the Department of Justice to Declare the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army a.k.a. Bagong Hukbong Bayan As Terrorist Organizations. In this 55 page petition my name has been included as one of the respondents and as one of the officers and members of the CPP and NPA.

I denounce this act by the Department of Justice of including me in this list.

I am not connected at all in anyway to those organizations nor do I have any knowledge, much less participation, with the alleged incidents cited in the petition.

I will address this baseless, malicious and irresponsible inclusion of my name even as I am consulting my lawyers on what legal courses of action to take to clear my name and even make accountable those who put my life and security at risk.

8 March 2018

Worries about the safety of people on the list

Tauli-Corpuz told Reuters that, “I am worried for my safety and the safety of others on the list, including several rights activists.”

Human Rights Watch describes the Justice Department’s petition as a “virtual government hit list”.

There’s a long history in the Philippines of the state security forces and pro-government militias assassinating people labeled as NPA members or supporters. The Duterte administration should publicly reject this petition and ensure the safety of those listed in it – or risk being complicit in the resulting crimes.

Many organisations have put out statements in support of Tauli-Corpuz and the other human rights activists on the government’s terrorist list. IUCN’s Director General, Inger Andersen, said,

“We at IUCN are dismayed that the Philippine Government could target a globally respected voice and spokesperson for indigenous peoples’ rights with malicious, unfounded and downright dangerous accusations. We note that the Philippines ratified the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and call on President Duterte and the broader government authorities to immediately annul this unacceptable action and to issue apologies and regrets to all concerned.”

In a statement, Michel Forst, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures, said,

“We are shocked that the Special Rapporteur is being targeted because of her work defending the rights of indigenous peoples. The accusation against her comes after the public comments made, jointly with other Special Rapporteurs, in relation to the militarization, attacks and killings of indigenous Lumad peoples by members of the armed forces in Mindanao; this accusation is considered as an act of retaliation for such comments.

“We call on the Philippine authorities to immediately drop these unfounded accusations against Ms. Tauli-Corpuz and to ensure her physical safety and that of others listed”

Julie Koch, Executive Director of the International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs, said,

“The Government of the Philipines regularly and increasingly threatens and harasses indigenous peoples. But this is taking it to a whole new level. At IWGIA, we are extremely worried about finding some of our long-term partners on the list, without having given them a possibility to deny the accusations. We fear for their personal safety.”

War of words

Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights went a bit further. He said,

“This is absolutely disgraceful that the president of a country could speak in this way, using the foulest of language against a rapporteur that’s highly respected. And really, it makes one believe that the president of the Philippines, needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation.”

President Duterte’s response was extraordinary. He said that if the UN Human Rights team investigates his war on drugs (which has led to 12,000 deaths) they should be fed to crocodiles. The Philippine Star reported Duterte as saying,

“If these fools come here, are there crocodies here? The ones that eat people? Throw those sons of b****** to them.

During a press briefing on 12 March 2018, China’s foreign Foreign Ministry Spokesperson Lu Kang, backed the Philippines,

“Relevant sides of the international community, including the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, shall respect the sovereignty of the Philippines and the will of its people.”

 

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  1. Statement from Amnesty International:

    15 March 2018

    Philippines: Onslaught against human rights defenders must end

    The Philippine government must immediately halt its latest wave of dangerous attacks on human rights defenders and international institutions, Amnesty International said today. Human rights defenders – among them two UN human rights experts – must be guaranteed protection in the country and be allowed to carry out their work freely.

    On 21 February 2018, the Department of Justice filed a petition to the Manila Regional Trial Court against over 650 individuals, seeking to designate them as “terrorists” under the Human Security Act of 2007 (Republic Act 9372), also known as the anti-terrorism law. Among those listed are human rights defenders including the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a Philippine national. The Special Rapporteur had recently spoken out against the government, criticizing the displacement of Indigenous Peoples during military operations in the south of the country.

    Under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946, UN experts have immunity from legal proceedings of every kind undertaken in the course of their mandated work. Amnesty International is concerned for the safety and wellbeing of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, as well as the other individuals mentioned in the government’s petition, who include members of prominent human rights organization Karapatan, and former representatives to UN expert bodies on indigenous peoples. The organisation calls on the Philippine authorities to ensure their safety and end all attacks on activists, human rights defenders and political dissenters in the Philippines.

    In recent days, President Duterte has also launched a further attack on UN Special Rapporteur on summary, arbitrary and extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard. The UN expert has been seeking to visit the Philippines in order to investigate the killings of thousands of Filipinos, the vast majority of them from poor and marginalised backgrounds, in the government’s deadly anti-drug campaign, which in Amnesty International’s view may amount to crimes against humanity. Amnesty International raised further concerns about the treatment of UN experts at the UN Human Rights Council on 14 March 2018.

    In a speech to government officials on 7 March 2018, President Duterte also made racist remarks about Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda. The ICC opened a preliminary examination on the Philippines ‘war on drugs’ in February 2018. On 14 March 2018, President Duterte announced that the Philippines intended to withdraw its ratification of the Court’s Statute. However, the ICC will continue to have jurisdiction to examine and prosecute alleged crimes relating to investigations started prior to the date on which the withdrawal takes effect, that is, a year after it is formally presented.

    In the past weeks, the President has been reported in the media to have given direct orders to police not to cooperate with UN Special Procedures mandate holders that may visit the country, and also threatened to throw “to the crocodiles” international investigators that may probe human rights violations if they visited the Philippines.

    These vicious attacks on human rights defenders are taking place amidst greater international scrutiny of the Philippines. Amnesty International reiterates its call on the Philippine authorities to allow UN Special Procedures and other international human rights investigators access into the country, to investigate alleged human rights violations. The organisation also calls on the Human Rights Council to open a UN led investigation to ensure an end to extrajudicial executions in the ‘war on drugs’, and to establish accountability.

  2. Statement from IBON International

    Stop the Duterte administration’s crackdown on rights defenders and people’s organisations!

    IBON International Statement
    12 March 2018

    IBON International joins various organisations in the Philippines and abroad in denouncing the Duterte administration’s tagging of Filipino rights advocates and members of people’s organisations and civil society as “terrorists”.

    The Philippines’ Department of Justice (DOJ) filed a petition in a Manila court to maliciously classify more than 600 individuals as “terrorists,” as part of attempts to tag the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist organisations”. This came months after the government unilaterally blocked the peace process with the National Democratic Front (NDF).

    Among the falsely accused is Beverly Longid, member of the IBON International Board of Trustees, a co-chair of the global platform CSO Partnership for Development Effectiveness, and Global Coordinator of the International Indigenous Peoples Movement for Self-Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL). Also included in what a human rights lawyer called a “shotgun witch hunt” are an “odd concoction” of names, ranging from rights defenders, Filipino UN officials and hundreds of aliases.

    A staunch advocate of IP rights, Beverly is part of SANDUGO, a Philippine movement of national minorities for self-determination, and is the Coordinator of the Asia Indigenous Peoples Network on Extractive Industries and Energy (AIPNEE). She has participated in sessions of the Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization (UNPO) and in various UN processes such as the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and the post-2015 sustainable development agenda. Beverly’s presence in the IBON International Board is a reminder for our work to hold the right to self-determination in equal regard as all other social, cultural and economic rights.

    The accusations against her and other advocates are attempts to discredit their crucial work in the interest of people’s rights and genuine development. They are the latest targets in the administration’s barrage of attacks against rights defenders, and generally all real and perceived critics of its increasingly iron-fisted rule.

    The list justifies suppressing these advocates’ and development workers’ voices by the government’s notorious security apparatus. This includes a police force heavily involved in the deadly “war on drugs,” and military and paramilitary forces involved in extrajudicial killings of indigenous peoples’ leaders, and even recent cases of torture.[i] Both, in a few words, propagate state terror in the country.

    The allegations invoke the Philippines’ Human Security Act, which international rights organisations and Philippine social movements have deemed dangerous since its passage. Even Harry Roque, now the loyal spokesperson for the administration, warned of its threats in 2007 given the unclear definition of “terrorism”.[ii]

    The false “terrorist” list comes at a time of other alarming repercussions for civil and political rights in the country, with Duterte signing a recent law (RA 10973) that gives power to the police chief to summon individuals for testimonies and documents.

    The current administration is already notorious in the international community due to its anti-poor “war on drugs.” Is the Duterte government terrified that rights defenders would further expose the disregard for the rights of the poor and marginalised in both the cities and the countrysides? Is the administration wary that development workers and civil society voices would reveal the rising poverty caused by the state’s dogged obedience to the discredited policy track of neoliberalism?

    IBON International expresses solidarity with the rights defenders and advocates falsely accused of being “terrorists”. We call on the Filipino people and the international community to be ever more watchful of the administration’s sleights of hand in crushing people’s voices.

    We call on our friends and allies to raise their voices against the unfounded and dangerous accusations and the perils of shrinking civil society space in the country.

    We strongly demand that the Duterte administration and the DOJ stop this injustice against advocates on pretexts of the problematic Human Security Act. We demand that the government end its current “war on drugs,” the killings of farmers and indigenous peoples, and its anti-development economic policy — all of which devastate the poor and marginalised and are injustices to Filipino peoples’ rights.

    Activism is not terrorism! Stop the criminalisation of rights defenders! Fight tyranny!

    [i] IBON International. 2018. Duterte Killings Continue: State Terror and Human Rights in the Philippines. http://www.iboninternational.org/resources/17/12/01/duterte-killings-continue-state-terror-and-human-rights-philippines

    [ii] JURIST. 2007. “The Philippines Human Security Act violates international law.” http://www.jurist.org/hotline/2007/10/philippines-human-security-act-violates.php