UN body to PH: Probe Echanis, Alvarez slays
MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations Human Rights Office urged the government to hold “independent, thorough and transparent investigations” into the killings of peace consultant Randall “Randy” Echanis and rights defender Zara Alvarez, who were murdered just days apart.
“The UN Human Rights Office stresses the need for independent, thorough and transparent investigations into the killings and for those responsible to be held to account,” said Liz Throssell, spokesperson for UN High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, in a statement.
Throssell said that while the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) welcomes the Duterte government’s statement denouncing attacks against rights workers, she said “effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them.”
“We have raised our concerns with the government and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on these cases, and look forward to continuing to engage with them,” Throssell added.
CHR commissioner Leah Tanodra-Armamento said in a television interview that the deaths of Echanis and Alvarez were among the 89 killings of activists from 2017 to 2019 that the commission was investigating.
But, Armamento claimed, there was “an order from the President himself not to give the Commission on Human Rights the data” on such attacks.
Both Malacañang and the Philippine National Police denied that President Rodrigo Duterte ever made such an order.
President Duterte, as a lawyer, “adheres to the rule of law and he wants the wheels of justice to grind, for the sake of the victims of abuse and violence and their families,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement on Saturday.
“The administration is equally interested to unmask those behind these brazen killings, which are being blamed to state agents, and we will leave no stone unturned to put these people behind bars,” he said, hours before the PNP released its own statement.
“The Philippine National Police categorically denies that President Duterte issued any order prohibiting the release of information or data with regard to the ongoing investigation on the recent attacks against rights defenders and activists,” PNP spokesperson Police Brig. Gen. Bernard Banac said.
“The CHR is free to conduct its own investigation and accordingly, to develop and procure its own evidence,” Banac said. “This is independent and separate from the standard protocols of the Philippine National Police.”
Despite the denials, Duterte himself told the police and the military in his 2017 State of the Nation Address not to participate in the agency’s probes and that he would abolish the CHR.
The OHCHR spokesperson also expressed alarm that both Echanis and Alvarez were tagged as terrorists before they were murdered and their names appeared on a list of 649 people that the government wanted to designate as terrorists.
Alvarez’s name and photo also appeared in a poster tagging her and several others of being terrorists.
“While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year,” Throssell said.
Throssell noted that following Alvarez’s murder, one of her colleagues, Clarizza Singson, received a death threat via Facebook warning her that she would be next.
“This is particularly worrying as Ms Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster,” Throssell said.
—With reports from Leila Salaverria and Nestor Corrales
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