UN rights probers fear worse for Mindanao
Two UN experts branded as “partisan” by Malacañang have warned that human rights abuses in Mindanao will likely get worse if martial law remains in force for one more year in the region.
UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary cited the experience of indigenous communities in the south, where they said military rule imposed since May to contain the terrorist attack in Marawi City had displaced thousands of “lumad,” with some ending up being killed.
“They are suffering massive abuse of their human rights, some of which are potentially irreversible,” according to a statement issued from Geneva, Switzerland, by the two investigators of human rights abuses.
“We fear the situation could deteriorate further if the extension of martial law until the end of 2018 results in even greater militarization,” they said.
The UN experts said they had information suggesting that 2,500 lumad had been displaced since October, and that lumad farmers had been killed by soldiers on Dec. 3 in the village of Ned in South Cotabato province.
“We fear that some of these attacks are based on unfounded suspicions that lumad are involved with militant groups or in view of their resistance to mining on their ancestral lands,” the rapporteurs said, without giving further details.
Mr. Duterte told Congress he needed to extend martial law in Mindanao to a year to fight terrorism. However, he later warned communist rebels, whom he classified as terrorists, that they would have no safe haven in Mindanao, where major units of the New People’s Army (NPA) operate.
Congress voted on Dec. 13 to approve a second extension of martial law in Mindanao, which had an initial duration of 60 days and was aimed primarily at lifting legal requirements to effect arrests and detain suspects in the war on Islamic State in Marawi City.
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, a former human rights lawyer, sought to discredit the UN rapporteurs’ statement, accusing them of partisanship because they had been elected as rapporteurs “upon the behest of the former administration,” referring to Mr. Duterte’s predecessor, Benigno Aquino III.
The rapporteurs were out to embarrass the Duterte administration, Roque said on Friday.
“(They) should be more circumspect in their statements,” he stressed. “Their observations, made so publicly as they were, appear to be very partisan.”
Special rapporteurs form the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system. Independent experts are selected through a “competitive and transparent process,” which includes online written applications and interviews by a consultative group which recommends rapporteurs to the president of the UNHRC.
Corpuz was appointed special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples in 2014. She was a Kankanaey Igorot leader, activist and women’s rights advocate. She once chaired the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Peoples and was involved in drafting the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 2007.
Damary was appointed special rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons in September 2016 and assumed office on Nov. 1, 2016. She was a human rights lawyer who specialized in forced displacements and migration issues.
She served as senior legal adviser and trainer at the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center of the Norwegian Refugee Council in Geneva.
Roque said being Filipinos, the rapporteurs should have documented allegations of abuse against lumad and brought this to police and prosecutors for filing of cases in court.
“The fact that they did it so publicly could only have been because they intended to embarrass the Philippine government in the international community,” Roque said. —Leila B. Salaverria
Subscribe to INQUIRER PLUS to get access to The Philippine Daily Inquirer & other 70+ titles, share up to 5 gadgets, listen to the news, download as early as 4am & share articles on social media. Call 896 6000.