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Philippines: deliberate targeting of human rights defenders continues

Zara Alvarez has become the latest victim

by Andrew Dobie

Filipina human rights defender Zara Alvarez has become the latest victim of the long-standing problem of targeting of human rights defenders. She was killed in the Philippine city of Bacolod on Monday 17 August. Her killing follows that of fellow Filipino human rights defender Randall Echanis a week before. Both serve as a powerful reminder of the crackdown and repression many human rights defenders and activists have faced in the Philippines since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power in June 2016. Ms. Alvarez was the former education director of the human rights alliance “Karapatan” and is reported to be the 13th member of the group killed since mid-2016. In connection with the assassination, the national leader of the organization, Cristina Palabay told Al Jazeera that “Considering the prior threats that they received from State forces, it is not really far from our mind that those who killed them are from the state forces.”

Photo courtesy of Christian Lue via Unsplash Worrying trend in the Philippines In 2018, the Philippine Department of Justice petitioned the courts for over 600 people, including the United Nations special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous people, to be labelled as terrorists. Whilst both were later removed, Alvarez and Echanis were reportedly included in the initial list. “Labelling individuals or groups as communists or “terrorists” has resulted in death threats and killings of activists and human rights defenders such as Zara Alvarez, which in turn fuel further deadly violence”, said Butch Olano, Amnesty International Philippine Section Director. “This cycle of bloodshed cannot be allowed to continue” – he added. Ms. Alvarez’s killing is the latest documented example of human rights being targeted in The Philippines since President Duterte took power. Both Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have reported ‘inter alia’ on arbitrary detentions, vilification, harassment, and attacks on human rights defenders and activists in the Philippines. A global problem According to the Front Line Defenders Global Analysis 2019 report, 304 human rights defenders were reportedly killed globally in 2019 alone. The report also recorded cases in 31 countries globally. It outlined two-thirds of the cases as taking place in South America; Colombia was the highest country with 106 reported cases. 43 reportedly took place in the Philippines. It was further highlighted that 40% of all recorded cases in 2019, were connected to land, indigenous peoples and environmental issues. Human rights defenders and activists across the globe are increasingly being targeted for their invaluable work, protecting and promoting supposedly universal human rights. In an ever-changing world ‘environmentally, socially and politically’, such patterns and practices of deliberately targeting these individuals must be tackled more by the wider international community.


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