Int’l concern for rights defenders in the Phl grows

THE Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) raised the alarm on the continuing human rights violations in the country under the Aquino government, particularly cases of extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders.

OMCT noted “the attacks on human rights defenders in a climate of pervasive impunity” especially those fighting for their land rights and the protection of the environment.   “A climate of pervasive and systematic impunity is at the heart of this alarming situation,” said the OMCT delegation in a statement.

The OMCT conducted a mission in the Philippines on November 11 to 17, 2012, to investigate the situation of rights defenders.  Two members of OMCT General Assembly, Ms. Vrinda Grover, a prominent human rights lawyer (India), and Ms. Claudia Samayoa, Coordinator of the Unit for Protection of Human Rights Defenders of Guatemala, led the mission. They met with leaders and network of Karapatan, indigenous peoples, farmers groups, lawyers, faith-based organisations, as well as government officials, foreign embassies and representatives of a transnational mining company in Manila and Mindanao.

The OMCT mission statement particularly cited the indigenous peoples who are “at risk in areas where conflict over land and natural resources has been aggravated by activities of national and transnational companies engaged in acquisition of land for mining and/or agro-industry.”

More than 70 farmer and indigenous peoples leaders and environmental advocates are currently in Metro Manila, the ManiLakbayan, to call the government’s attention for the same issues raised by the OMCT mission.

“The ancestral rights of indigenous people over land and natural resources are being brazenly violated often through the use of private security guards, paramilitary and the military. Indigenous human rights defenders resisting peacefully the violations and asserting their lawful and ancestral claims face extrajudicial killings, vilification and threats,” said the OMCT.

The OMCT initial mission report noted the recent killing of indigenous leader Juvy Capion and her two minor children on October 18, 2012, in Tampakan, by members of the 27th Infantry Battalion of the Philippines Armed Forces, saying that it “exemplify the dangerous and violent conditions in the area sought for gold – copper mining by Sagittarius Mines Inc. (SMI) and transnational company Xstrata.”

The relatives of Juvy Capion, led by sister-in-law Erita Capion, are among the ManiLakbayan delegates who arrived in Metro Manila on Nov. 30 for a series of activities and protest actions to call the government’s attention to the killings due to counterinsurgency operations of Oplan Bayanihan, and also to quell people’s protests against large-scale mining.

The OMCT mission did not fail to notice the presence and activities of “legalized paramilitary groups such as the Citizen Armed Force Geographical Unit (CAFGU) and the Investment Defense Unit, as well as the large scale possession and availability of dangerous arms and weapons, are contributing to the climate of impunity for human rights violations including the attacks on human rights defenders.”

The OMCT has taken to task the Aquino government to “demonstrate its intent to respect and protect the rights of those that continue to struggle for human rights even in a climate of stigma and fear,” adding that “plethora of laws and institutional mechanisms, purportedly for advancement of human rights, does not inspire confidence, as in their actual working and practices those in position of political, economic and military power continue to enjoy impunity.”

Among the recommendations of the mission emphasized the “role of command responsibility in Government and among forces in the security sector should also be diligently scrutinized in the perpetuation of impunity.”

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