Tell it to SunStar: UN special rapporteurs’ concerns on rights violations

Tell it to SunStar
Tell it to SunStarSunStar file photo

By Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general

We welcome the public issuance by six United Nations (UN) special rapporteurs led by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights while Countering Terrorism Fionnuala Ni Aoilain of their communications sent on Oct. 23, 2023 to the Marcos Jr. government calling attention to human rights violations committed in the course of implementing the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the Terrorism Financing Prevention and Suppression Act of 2012 and Executive Order 68 of 2018 (or the adoption of the National Money Laundering and Countering the Financing of Terrorism Strategy and Creation of the National AML/CFT Coordinating Committee).

The UN special rapporteurs had previously requested the Marcos Jr. regime to respond to their concerns within 60 days. Failing this, the rapporteurs said that they would publish their letter through their communications reporting website.

The letter, which was made public this January, points to the Marcos Jr. regime’s utter lack of interest in addressing the grave human rights issues cited by the rapporteurs. The letter was also signed by the UN special rapporteurs on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, the situation of human rights defenders, the rights of indigenous peoples, and on freedom of religion or belief.

The rapporteurs raised serious concern over reports that up to 24 individuals have been victimized and “multiple religious organizations and their members, as well as other direct service non-profit organizations have been affected by the alleged measures, in turn hindering access to Indigenous Peoples, internally displaced persons, human rights defenders, and women and children, to critical human rights and humanitarian services.”

They pointed out concerns on the designation of certain non-State armed groups in non-international armed conflicts (such as the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army) as terrorists and linking the provision of humanitarian activities — protection and assistance — as a form of support for terrorism or to persons or entities designated as terrorists, saying this “result[s] in the lowering of fundamental human rights and humanitarian protections for the weakest and most vulnerable.”

The letter cited that on at least four occasions, the UN special rapporteurs had already communicated their concern to the Philippine government over several human rights violations committed in the context of counter-terrorism such as arbitrary arrests, enforced disappearances, killings, fabricated charges and judicial harassment. They further cited that in April 2020, they voiced their concern over the designation of individuals and civil society and humanitarian organizations as “terrorists” pursuant to the Anti-Terrorism Act, stating that this comprised discrimination directed at religious and other minorities. Moreover, concerns over allegations of judicial harassment and red-tagging of seven human rights defenders and Indigenous leaders of the Cordillera Peoples Alliance were similarly directed to the Marcos Jr. government in a letter in January 2023.

The escalating human rights violations documented by Karapatan, including the filing of terrorism financing charges against yet another development nongovernment organization, the Cebu-based Cernet, is a clear indicator that the Marcos Jr. regime is all talk and bluster in its claims of adhering to international human rights norms and covenants to which the Philippine government is a signatory.

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