Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights: Liz Throssell
Date: 21 August 2020
We are saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats against human rights defenders in the Philippines, including the killing of two human rights defenders over the past two weeks.
We welcome the statement from the Presidential Palace denouncing “any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists” and note that investigations into both cases are underway.
Randall “Randy” Echanis, an agrarian reform advocate and peace consultant, was killed in his home in Quezon City on 10 August. Reports indicate he suffered brutal treatment before he died, including blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds. On 17 August, the day that Echanis was buried, another long-standing human rights defender, Zara Alvarez was shot dead in Bacolod City on Negros Island.
Both Echanis and Alvarez had been repeatedly “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – in relation to their work. Alvarez’s name appeared, for example, on a list of 649 people that the Government sought to designate as terrorists on March 28. While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year. Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists that is cited in the High Commissioner’s report. She was pictured alongside two other human rights defenders who had been killed – Benjamin Ramos Jr. and Bernardino Patigas, both of whose murder cases remain unsolved. Alvarez had also spent two years in prison on murder charges before she was acquitted in March this year for lack of evidence.
Following the murder of Zara Alvarez, her colleague Clarizza Singson, received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next. This is particularly worrying as Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster.
The UN Human Rights Office stresses the need for independent, thorough and transparent investigations into the killings and for those responsible to be held to account. Effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them. We also call on the Government to ensure that relevant agencies cooperate fully with investigations by the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.
We have raised our concerns with the Government and the Commission on Human Rights on these cases, and look forward to continuing to engage with them.
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