PHILIPPINES: Extrajudicial killings and attacks against human rights defenders surge under Duterte

08/09/2017
Press release

Paris-Geneva, September 8, 2017 - Authorities in the Philippines must ensure greater protection of human rights defenders amid a recent surge of killings and attacks against them, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (FIDH-OMCT) said today.

In recent days, at least four representatives from different communities, - peasant and small-scale miner groups - have been shot dead. More than 50 human rights defenders - mostly peasants or indigenous persons - have been killed since President Duterte assumed office in June 2016, according to human rights NGO Karapatan (a member of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network). Karapatan has documented the killing of more than 660 human rights defenders in the last 16 years in the Philippines.

While human rights defenders in the Philippines have been traditionally vulnerable to killings, threats, and attacks [1], President Duterte’s anti-human rights rhetoric and blatant disregard for human life have created a more hostile environment for defenders, said FIDH President Dimitris Christopoulos.

President Duterte has repeatedly threatened to kill human rights defenders. The latest such instance was on August 16, when he suggested that human rights activists were “obstructing justice” and urged police to “shoot them”.

President Duterte’s Government, like any other Philippine Government, has a legal obligation to protect human rights and human rights defenders. His discourse that literally encourages violence against defenders - the very people who stand up for human rights, social justice, and an inclusive society - must stop, said OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.

On August 23, 2017, Mr. Roger Timboco, a member of the peasant group KAMMAO (Kahugpungan sa mga Maguuma sa Maco ComVal), was shot dead in Mawab, Compostela Valley. Four days later, a member of “Abante”, a local organisation of small-scale miners, Mr. Lomer Gerodias, was shot dead in Maragusan, also in Compostela Valley. Both killings were believed to have been carried out by Philippine soldiers. Two others, Mr. Jezreel Arrabis and his wife Ms. Dalia Arrabis, both members of the Farmers Association in Davao City (FADC), were gunned down in Davao City on September 2, 2017.

In addition to extrajudicial killings, human rights defenders operating in the Philippines continue to be the target of harassment, death threats, and verbal abuse. On August 22, police raided the houses of peasant activists Mr. Rolando Gumban, his son Jeremy Gumban, and son-in-law Jun Roy Diane - all members of farmers group Pamanggas-KMP, which works to promote land rights in Sitio Lubigan, Barangay Pananawan, Masbate Province. Police arrested the three and detained them at Sara police station, Iloilo Province. The charges against them are still unknown. In July and August, several members of Karapatan, including Secretary Generals Ms. Cristina Palabay and Mr. Reylan Vergara, received death threats. On August 20, 2017, Dr. Darby Santiago, Chairperson of the Health Alliance for Democracy (HEAD) - a member organisation of Karapatan, also received death threats.

A fact-finding mission to the Philippines, carried out by the Observatory from August 7 to 16, 2017, observed an increasingly hostile environment for human rights defenders in the country. Interlocutors reported having experienced increased difficulties in carrying out their human rights activities under President Duterte, particularly in relation to investigations surrounding extrajudicial killings allegedly committed by police and vigilantes as part of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’.

House Bill 1617, which is currently under consideration before the House of Representatives and aims at strengthening the protection of human rights defenders, could help improve the situation for defenders. The draft legislation reaffirms the rights of human rights defenders when carrying out their peaceful and legitimate activities. It also imposes an obligation on the Government to take all precautionary measures to ensure the protection of human rights defenders against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of their legitimate activities.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
• FIDH: Samuel Hanryon: +33 6 72 28 42 94 / Audrey Couprie: +33 6 48 05 91 57
• OMCT: Delphine Reculeau: +41 22 809 49 39

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