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Update: Indigenous leaders are threatened by Duterte in the Philippines

Find the latest news from the critical situation in the Philippines, where indigenous leaders and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples has been included on a terror list and President Duterte has removed the Philippines support to the International Criminal Court (ICC) within the last few weeks.

The issue in brief

President Duterte’s administration has recently made international headlines through its war on drugs, where brutal methods have led to thousands of deaths. According to Philippine police themselves, 4.100 drug dealers have been killed in shootouts during the last 20 months, and another 2.300 suspected users and peddlers have been killed by unidentified armed men without any prior trial. Activist’s and indigenous peoples right defenders have similarly been suppressed and two indigenous peoples have been extrajudicially killed every month under the Duterte administration, and 41 in 2017 alone.

Last week, the conflict escalated to a new level when several Indigenous leaders and the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples were included on a terror list together with over 600 named people in the Philippines. The individuals included in the list have had no chance to defend themselves against the allegations and their personal safety is now endangered.

Currently international pressure to remove the allegations is building up, but so far, the Philippine Government has responded in two ways: by demanding that the individuals on list have to prove their “innocence” or they will soon be arrested and by removing the support for the International Criminal Court, who this February initiated the first steps in an investigation on Duterte and top officials involvements in “crimes against the humanity”.

Relevant Quotes:

“The Government of the Philippines regularly and increasingly threatens and harasses indigenous peoples. But this is taking it to a whole new level” says International Work Group of Indigenous Affairs (WGIA) Executive Director, Julie Koch.

“At IWGIA, we are extremely worried about finding some of our long-term partners on the list, without having given them a possibility to deny the accusations. We fear for their personal safety” explains Julie Koch.

“I expect to have the possibility to take legal action to clear my name, and expect the Government to ensure the physical safety of those of us who are listed in the petition” The co-founder of Cordillera Peoples Alliance (CPA), Ms. Joan Carling, who together with several other members were named on the terror list. (Contact IWGIA to receive full statement in a PDF version)

“We are shocked that the Special Rapporteur is being targeted because of her work defending the rights of indigenous peoples,” said Michel Forst, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Catalina Devandas Aguilar, Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures in a statement published on OHCHR’s web page here  

“We urge the Philippines to observe its obligations under international law to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, including in the context of armed conflict. The authorities must ensure that all human rights abuses are halted and that there is justice and accountability for past attacks.” Press release by UN Special Rapport Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz in December, 2017. Read full press release here

A timeline over recent developments

● December 2016: The Philippine Government cancelled the visit of Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard.
● May 2017: A 60-day Martial Law was declared in the entire Mindanao Island and the privilege writ of habeas corpus was suspended. The same month the Philippine government rejected 154 out of 257 recommendations made by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC)
● August-September 2017: 2,600 indigenous and Moro people took part in the Lakbayan caravana protesting against human rights violations and militarisation of indigenous communities
● November 2017: President Duterte issued Proclamation 360 terminating the peace negotiations between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP).
● December 2017: Marawi crisis leaves 77,170 families displaced and Martial Law gets extended until the end of 2018. UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Ms. Vicky Tauli-Corpuz, and Special Rapporteur on internally displaced persons, Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, issued a statement expressing alarm at the widespread human rights abuses and increased militarization, especially in Lumad indigenous peoples’ communities in Mindanao.
● December 2017: President Rodrigo Duterte sign a proclamation stating that the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing New People’s Army (NPA) are terrorists after a collapse in the peace negotiations.
● February 2018: 8th of February the International Criminal Court (ICC) begins a preliminary examination of Duterte and top officials due to accusations of crimes against humanity committed in their war on drugs.
● February 2018: 21st of February a 55-page petition is filed in Manila Court by Senior Assistant State Prosecutor Peter L. Ong naming more than 600 individuals who allegedly are connected to Communist Parties of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.
● March 2018: In the beginning of March the terror list is circulated and many activists discover to their surprise that they have been named on it.
● March 2018: 12th of March the Duterte administration claims that it has solid evidence of its allegations and that the people on the terror list should prove their innocence or they will be arrested.
● March 2018: 13th of March President Duterte states in a press release that the Philippines withdraw their support for the Rome Statue due to “baseless, unprecedented and outrageous attacks on my person as well as against my administration”.

● March 2018: 16th of March United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues release a statement where they call the charges "unsubstantiated" and request an immediate removal of indigenous defenders from the list. Read more here

  • April 2018: Philippines President Duterte warns the International Criminal Court prosecutor if she conducts activities in the country. Read more here
  • April 2018: The celebration of the 34th Cordillera Day will be held the 23rd of April and is spearheaded by Cordillera Peoples Alliance.

IWGIA’s role & position:

International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs (IWGIA) has since 1968 worked with promoting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights globally. Among the individuals on the terror list are several indigenous leaders whom IWGIA has worked with for many years.

IWGIA strongly rejects these false accusations that endangers and jeopardize the outstanding work of the indigenous leaders and human rights defenders. These people are not terrorists but are making huge contributions to protect and defend the rights of indigenous peoples in the Philippines and around the world. Therefore, we demand their rights are respected and that measures are taken to protect their safety.

We believe the petition signed by the State Prosecutor is just the latest step in a chain of events where indigenous peoples and others have experienced unrelenting human rights violations. Since February 2017, there has been an increase in gross human rights violations committed against indigenous peoples under the government’s Oplan Kapayapaan counter-insurgency operations. In addition, indigenous peoples’ situation has severely deteriorated due to the current imposition of martial law in the Mindanao region.

Please read IWGIA's press release on the publication of a terror list here

Furthermore, IWGIA fully support an open letter from the Cordillera Peoples Alliance calling for the Philippine Government to dismiss this list and secure the personnal safety of the people on it.

Background:

The terror list was signed by Philippines State Prosecutor Peter L. Ong the 21st of February but was first made official last week. The list identifies over 600 named individuals that allegedly are connected with Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and the New People’s Army (NPA) who due to a dispute in December (2017) now are considered terrorist organisations by the Duterte administration.

Unfortunately, this is just the latest step in a long development where activist and indigenous peoples increasingly are being harassed by the Duterte administration that do not respect their rights. In 2017, 141 nature and human rights activist were killed in the Philippines which place the country among the world’s three most dangerous countries to be an activist in.

The inclusion of Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz on the list is by The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) seen as a retaliation for a press release issued in December (2017), where she warned the Duterte administration that the militarization of the Mindanao region had potential “irreversible” effects on the indigenous peoples in the region.

The inclusion of several indigenous leaders on the terror list also worsens the fragile state of indigenous peoples’ human rights in the country. Under the Duterte administration, every month at least two indigenous peoples are extrajudicially killed according to Coordillera Peoples’ Alliance (CPA). Since 2016, Philippine indigenous peoples organizations have also recorded at least 62 illegal arrests, 21 political prisoners, 20 incidents of forced evacuation affecting 21,966 indigenous peoples, and more than a hundred people facing trumped-up charges.

For further information and latest developments, please contact Press and Communication Manager Bue Heckmann at IWGIA on +45 31 53 30 16

Tags: Land rights, Facts, Human rights

About IWGIA

IWGIA - International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs - is a global human rights organisation dedicated to promoting, protecting and defending indigenous peoples’ rights. Read more.

Indigenous World

IWGIA's global report, the Indigenous World, provides an update of the current situation for indigenous peoples worldwide. Download here.

Contact IWGIA

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