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High Commissioner’s report highlights risks faced by defenders in the Philippines

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, presents her report on the human rights situation in the Philippines at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council today

"After more than 30 years of defending the rights of farmers in Negros, multiple threats, frequent red-tagging and surveillance, attorney Benjamin Ramos was shot dead on 6 November 2018.”

The killing of Benjamin Ramos is just one example from the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation in the Philippines, presented at the 44th sessions of the Human Rights Council today. The report paints a grim picture of the landscape for defending human rights in the country and details a harrowing number of tragic killings of defenders like Benjamin.

The numbers are shocking. Between the beginning of 2015 and the end of 2019, the UN OHCHR verified 208 killings of defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women. These are only the cases that the UN’s human rights office has been able to document. It is likely that others, particularly in rural areas, may have gone uncounted, leaving the true number even higher.

“To date”, the report goes on to say, “there has been no justice for his family, and Ramos’ colleagues continue to face threats and vilification.”

Impunity for crimes against human rights defenders has become the rule rather than the exception in the Philippines.

It begins when defenders are threatened and smeared, and receive no support or protection from the government or law enforcement.

Smear campaigns online and in the media beget further abuse and stigmatisation. Threatening posters left uninvestigated precede physical attacks. In this way, tolerance of harassment at its early stages presages impunity as things grow more serious.

In Benjamin Ramos’s case, the Presidential spokesperson condemned the human rights defender’s killing and promised justice. Yet the report details that Benjamin, who made powerful enemies through his advocacy around the land rights of rural communities, was previously publicly accused by the military of being affiliated with the New People’s Army, an accusation that was reproduced on posters alongside his picture. Since his assassination, his colleagues have received threats, warning them they will be next.

I express my full support for the recommendations made by the High Commissioner in her report and urge the Government to engage with them. I would like to highlight, in particular, the following recommendation, calling on the government to:

“Ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are respected and protected; drop politically-motivated charges against human rights defenders, political opponents and media organisations, legal and judicial officials, trade unionists, church workers, and others; take legal measures to ensure their protection, particularly following threats, including of gender-based violence; ensure there are no reprisals against those persons and entities which have engaged with the OHCHR for the present report.”

An advanced unedited version of the report (A/HRC/44/22) can be accessed at the following link: https://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session44/Pages/ListReports.aspx

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