“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,” Liz Throssell, a spokesperson for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), said at a regular media briefing.
Randall “Randy” Echanis, an agrarian reform advocate and peace consultant, was killed in his home in Quezon City, located just outside capital Manila, on 10 August, added the OHCHR spokesperson, noting that reports indicated that he suffered brutal treatment before he died, including blunt force trauma to the head and stab wounds.
On 17 August, the day that Mr. Echanis was buried, another long-standing human rights defender, Zara Alvarez, was shot dead in Bacolod City on Negros Island, some 490 kilometres south east of Manila.
Investigations into both cases are underway.
Human rights defenders ‘red-tagged’
According to OHCHR, both Mr. Echanis and Ms. Alvarez had been repeatedly “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – in relation to their work. Ms. Alvarez’s name appeared, for example, on a list of 649 people that the Government sought to designate as terrorists on 28 March 2020.
“While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Ms. 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,” added Ms. Throssell.
Ms. Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists. 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. She had also spent two years in prison on murder charges before she was acquitted in March for lack of evidence.
Following the murder of Ms. Alvarez, her colleague Clarizza Singson, received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next.
“This is particularly worrying as Ms. Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster,” added Ms. Throssell.
Effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders – OHCHR spokesperson Liz Throssell
Bring perpetrators to justice
At the briefing, Ms. Throssell said that investigations into the killings of Mr. Echanis and Ms. Alvarez are underway, and welcomed the statement from the Presidential Palace denouncing “any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists”
“[We] stresses the need for independent, thorough and transparent investigations into the killings and for those responsible to be held to account,” underscored the OHCHR spokesperson, adding:
“Effective measures must be taken to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them.”
OHCHR also called 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,” said Ms. Throssell.