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Philippines urged to protect human rights defenders

Two UN Special Rapporteurs on Monday urged [press release] the government of Philippines to protect human rights defenders and ensure that they can pursue their work without interference. Margaret Sekaggya, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Christof Heyns [official websites], the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, reported that numerous human rights defenders in the country are facing death threats and have even been killed since the death of Fr. Fausto Tenorio in Mindanao last year. It was reported that the violence is not only directed against the rights defenders but also against their family members. Most of the cases involve mining and dam projects infringing on local communities. While acknowledging the economic interests implicated in the cases, the two rapporteurs stressed that the government has an obligation to address the issue of weak protection for human rights defenders. With the call, they also added that a failure to do so would amount to violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) [text]. The rapporteurs stressed that the government should immediately adapt the recommendations set out in the Report of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions [text, PDF] of 2009.

Philippines has faced criticism for rights violations in the recent years. In April, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] sent a letter to the chief of staff of the nation's military calling the Philippines to address the issue of numerous human rights abuses and hold perpetrators accountable [JURIST report]. HRW urged action in four areas: ending impunity for extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances; addressing abuses by paramilitary forces; ceasing falsely tagging children as rebel fighters; and ending military use of schools. The human rights group had already urged the government to act on human rights violations last year when it announced that the country's authority has failed to investigate and prosecute extrajudicial killings [JURIST report] tied to the country's military. In July 2010 President Benigno Aquino [BBC profile] signed an executive order to set up a "truth commission" to investigate allegations [JURIST report] that the outgoing administration engaged in corruption and human rights violations. The move came after he announced [JURIST report] earlier that month his plans for the investigation into the allegations.

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