CHRP condemns the latest government attacks on human rights organisations in the Philippines
September 2019 embargoed until 9 September 2019
The Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines (CHRP) strongly condemns the most recent attack by the Duterte Administration against human rights organisations in the Philippines. It is an outrage that human rights organisations who have been trying to use the law courts to defend themselves against government smears that they are terrorists and rebels – smears which invite deadly attacks on human rights defenders by police and death squads – are now facing perjury charges by the government’s National Security Advisor for doing so.
Three organisations are currently facing perjury charges brought by General Hermogenes Esperon: the prominent human rights organisation Karapatan, the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines (RMP) and the women’s organisation Gabriela. All of these are well respected and long established non governmental organisations which have worked for many years in the cause of social justice and human rights in the Philippines. All three have strongly condemned the government’s record on human rights and its overt encouragement of extra judicial killings.
It is currently estimated that since 2016 around 27,000 people have died so far as a result of extra judicial killings in the Philippines, in President Duterte’s so-called “war against drugs”. The scale of killings has led the International Criminal Court (ICC) in 2018 to launch a preliminary investigation against the president and in July 2019 the UN Human Rights Council voted to launch its own investigation. The Philippines Government has not agreed to cooperate with either investigation and has instead issued a number of threats against any international investigators coming to the Philippines.
The killings in the Philippines have mainly targeted the young and unemployed in urban poor communities. However, this strategy of terror is increasingly being used to target anyone who criticises the government. Attacks on the press in the Philippines, ranging from the use of trumped up charges against editors and owners to the murder and abduction of journalists, were highlighted as some of the worst in the world in the July 2019 Global Conference on Media Freedom sponsored by the UK and Canadian governments. This September 2019 a report by Global Witness has identified the Philippines as the most dangerous country in the world to be an environmental activist.
Human rights defenders have become particular targets of the government. In a speech President Duterte threatened to behead them. Individual human rights workers have been listed as terrorists in press adverts taken out by the police or displayed on public notice boards. They have been named by police in TV and radio interviews. This is seen as an invitation for death squads (often off duty police) to eliminate them. Karapatan has lost seven of its local members in such extra judicial murders.
In recent months Karapatan, RMP and Gabriela made an attempt to petition the courts to provide protection against such threats from the state. They provided evidence and witnesses to support their case. However, one of their witnesses was murdered while the case was waiting to be heard, and the court refused to allow the presentation of their documentary evidence. It then denied the petition. The organisations then submitted an appeal. The next day General Esperon filed charges of perjury.
We call on the Justice Secretary to immediately dismiss the malicious and trumped up charges of perjury against Karapatan, Rural Missionaries of the Philippines and Gabriela.
We call on the Supreme Court to grant the petition submitted by these three respected organisations and to force the government to cease attacks and intimidation against them.
We call for the cessation of all government smear tactics against human rights organisations and other civil society organisation, including listing them as terrorist organisations or the use of trumped up criminal charges against them.
We call for an end to all extra-judicial killings and call on the government to abandon counterinsurgency strategies which target civilian populations, and to follow all UN Human Rights Conventions and international standards on human rights.
We urge the immediate enactment and full implementation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill which will provide legal protection to human rights defenders in their work and in accordance with UN standards.