The mission, conducted in the Philippines’ Northern Mindanao region and South Cotabato Province found that land rights defenders as well as indigenous rights defenders peacefully campaigning to protect their ancestral lands from the impact of mining, deforestation, and other development projects are the most targeted categories of human rights defenders. They face extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, intimidation, torture, fabricated criminal charges and threats. Land rights defenders are also constantly stigmatised through long periods of incarceration on false and trumped-up charges.
“The report clearly shows that laws and the criminal justice system are on most occasions used to harass, detain, and imprison human rights defenders, effectively removing them from the human rights arena. Despite the chilling effect that those actions have on the whole Filipino human rights community, human rights defenders remain steadfast in their struggle for justice”, stated OMCT Secretary General Gerald Staberock.
“Killings and attacks on Filipino human rights defenders are not isolated incidents. They reflect a pattern of threats, intimidation, physical assaults, extra-judicial killings, and enforced disappearances against farmer leaders and peasants who assert their legal rights stemming from the state’s agrarian reforms programme”, said FIDH President Karim Lahidji.
The culture of violence and impunity continues due to the lack of accountability for past human rights violations which is the result of chronic failure on the part of the police to rigorously investigate those abuses. In addition, lack of impartial police investigations and protracted judicial proceedings inspire little faith in the criminal justice system.
In this regard, the report points to serious structural shortcomings in the Philippines’ criminal justice system: the lack of adequate remedies for human rights defenders to counter false accusations and arbitrary detentions; the insufficient number of judges leading to interminable delays in trials; the absence of competent, committed, and affordable legal representation; and the constant threats faced by lawyers representing human rights defenders.
The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OBS) was created in 1997 by FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT). The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders.