GENEVA, Switzerland – The Philippine government emphasized the need to integrate ways to safeguard the human rights defenders space from exploitation by actors who use it to pursue violent agenda and terrorism on the ground.
Ambassador Evan P. Garcia, Permanent Representative to the United Nations (UN) in Geneva, during the 43rd UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) Session here on March 12, said the creation of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF ELCAC) in 2018 was in response to the need to address the drivers such as the broader social, economic, and political conditions conducive to insurgency and terrorism.
He said it is consistent with the recommendation of UN Special Rapporteur on Terrorism Fionnuala Ní Aoláin in her report.
In a dialogue with Aoláin, Garcia said with the Philippines listed as one of the top 10 countries most impacted by terrorism, there is a need that the approach to terrorism and violent extremism take into account the realities on the ground-based on actual experiences and challenges of states, communities, and especially the victims.
Making communities resilient against risks of exploitation by terrorist groups based on concrete human rights and good governance agenda is at the heart of the work of NTF ELCAC, he added.
In the dialogues with UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Michel Forst and UN Special Rapporteur on Cultural Rights Karima Bennoune, the Philippine government flagged about the use of human rights defenders space by certain actors to promote agendas of deceit and violence.
“The realities in the Philippines clearly illustrate that in some contexts, the lines are blurred, and this is being exploited by certain actors,“ he said.
He shared how the Communist Party of the Philippines – New People’s Army – National Democratic Front (CPP-NPA-NDF) – an armed non-state actor – has carried out Asia‘s longest-running insurgency and terrorized communities while benefitting from the goodwill that the UN system endows the human rights defenders.
“Their well-documented atrocities include the recruitment of indigenous children for combat and the killing of hundreds of indigenous leaders and tribal warriors who continue to oppose and defend their ancestral domain against CPP-NPA-NDF,“ he added.
With over 100 indigenous cultural communities, he said the Philippines has been steadfast in promoting self-governance of ancestral domains, duly respectful and sensitive to customary laws and indigenous cultural rights.
“IP communities have reported numerous cases of killings of their leaders and systematic destruction of their culture and way of life by the CPP-NPA-NDF which illegally use ancestral domains as a base for insurgency operations. Regrettably, this is made possible by presenting themselves as so-called rights defenders to be able to access foreign funding for purported charitable causes which, in turn, are used to sustain their violent armed movement,” he said.
In its statement at the UNHRC Session, the Philippine government affirmed the valuable contribution of defenders and their legitimate activities to advancing human rights, and in that spirit, has repeatedly underscored the need to protect this space from exploitation by unscrupulous groups who use the defender badge as an impunity blanket for committing gross human rights violations and evading accountability.
The Philippines, a fifth-term member of the UN Human Rights Council from 2019 to 2021, is a staunch advocate of the human rights of vulnerable groups and is recognized as a global leader on many human rights advocacies including on gender and migration.
The country actively contributes to strengthening the work of the Council in promoting and protecting human rights through constructive, meaningful, and effective actions. (DFA)