By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – For cooperating with the United Nations, human rights victims, members of civil society and activists are experiencing a rise in incidents of intimidation and reprisals.
This is according to the recent report of the UN Secretary General which was presented to the Human Rights Council’s 45th regular session in Geneva, Switzerland.
The report revealed that the UN Human Rights Office has documented alleged reprisals in at least 45 countries including the Philippines.
Although the number represents only a fraction of the actual incidents, UN Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights Ilze Brands Kehris, who presented the report virtually to the HRC, said that she is “worried this may even be a sign that cases have actually increased.”
“Given the vast change in the engagement with the UN this year due to the pandemic, we imagined the numbers would be going down, but that has unfortunately not been the case,” said Brands Kehris.
The report noted that “some repressive or restrictive environments” led to self-censorship, resulting in “diminished cooperation with the UN.”
The report also noted that in the digital sphere the cases range from attacks against activists and journalists on social media to “being punished for submitting information to or communicating electronically with the UN.”
“Some of these communications to the UN were thought to be private, exposing the degree of surveillance and cracks in digital security that activists and journalists face,” the report revealed.
Details of the cases were dealt in the annexes of the report, revealing repeat cases for some individuals and groups like the detention of Sen. Leila de Lima, which also appeared in the 2018 and 2019 reports and of Karapatan, which also appeared in the 2019 report.
The Secretary-General pointed out that these “repeated incidents can signal patterns,” which, according to Brands Kehris, have been identified by multiple UN actors in the report.
In addition this, this year’s report cited the killings of two members of Karapatan, office raids, arbitrary detention and the filing of cases against Karapatan secretariat members and staff from May 2019 to March 2020. It also mentioned patterns of harassment including the death and rape threats against Cristina Palabay, Karapatan’s secretary general.
In a statement delivered via video to the UNHRC on Sept. 30, Palabay, who is also the regional council member of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD), welcomed the report of the UN Secretary-General as “it reflects the systemic patterns of reprisals which we see in the Philippines against human rights defenders engaging with the UN.”
Palabay said that there has been no action on their efforts to obtain legal protection from the courts in the country. Such actions or inaction, she said, unfortunately contributed to the killing of two Karapatan members, Zara Alvarez and Ryan Hubilla. Both of them were supposed to testify on the threats to their lives, security and liberty.
“We call on the Council to ensure that defenders diligently documenting, monitoring and reporting rights violations in the Philippines and engaging with the Council be protected from harmful rhetoric and public labelling, including red-tagging, which the High Commissioner said has been extremely dangerous. We are activists and human rights defenders; we are not terrorists. We call on the Council to look deeply into these allegations and reports through independent and impartial monitoring and investigation,” Palabay said.