A United Nations committee on Tuesday urged the Philippines to remove indigenous peoples or IPs and human rights defenders from a list of more than 600 individuals allegedly affiliated with “terrorist organizations,” including Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a Cordillera-born Filipina who is a UN special rapporteur.
The UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination said in a decision in its 95th session held in Geneva, Switzerland that the country must address “the dire situation faced by indigenous leaders and human rights defenders engaged in the fight against racial discrimination in the country.”
The committee monitors the implementation of the UN Anti-Racism Convention, which the Philippines ratified in 1967. It said it was acting under its preventive mechanism—the “Early Warning and Urgent Action Procedures” that aim to prevent existing situations “from escalating into conflicts and limit the scale of serious violations” of the convention.
It expressed alarm at the inclusion of incumbent and former UN mandate holders on that list, including Tauli-Corpuz, the UN special rapporteur on the rights of IPs; Joan Carling, former member of the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues; and Jose Molintas, former member of the UN Expert Mechanism on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples.
“The list aims to intimidate people struggling for their rights and indigenous people defending their lands. It is part of a wider campaign by the State party to narrow the democratic space and to target various groups of persons,” the committee said.
Malacañang has yet to react to the decision as of press time.
In its decision, the UN body requested the Philippines to take effective measures to protect IPs and human rights defenders, and to foster a conducive environment “enabling them to carry out their work without fear.”
It also requested the Philippines to provide information on its moves on the issue “no later than July 16.”
The UN committee also invited the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to draw the attention of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations “to the dire human rights situation” of IPs and their defenders in the Philippines and called on the President of the UN Human Rights Council “to use all possible means deemed appropriate to address and follow up on the aforementioned situation.”
In March, Tauli-Corpuz said she feared for her own safety and that of other rights activists on the list. She told the New York Times in an article published May 3 that she fled home and hopped from city to city for two months, with just one suitcase in tow.
In February, the Department of Justice filed a petition in a Manila court seeking more than 600 alleged communist guerrillas declared as terrorists. Tauli-Corpuz was listed as a member of a Maoist rebel group but has denied the allegations.
“The charges are entirely baseless and malicious,” Tauli-Corpuz said then. “The government sees this as an opportunity to pursue people they don’t like. I am worried for my safety and the safety of others on the list, including several rights activists.”
Malacañang had said Tauli-Corpuz’s inclusion in the list was based on intelligence information and not part of a witch hunt, adding she was free to dispute the “terrorist” tag before a court.
Local and international organizations have blasted the Philippine government’s action, with New York-based Human Rights Watch calling the petition “a virtual government hit list.”
Carling and Molintas had expressed “grave concern” about Tauli-Corpuz being on the list, and said she was being punished by President Rodrigo Duterte for speaking out against some of his policies.
In December, Tauli-Corpuz said thousands of indigenous people had been forcibly displaced from their homes in Mindanao, and asked authorities to end abuses against them that had escalated under military operations as the region was put under martial law to combat terrorists who had besieged Marawi City.
“The petition is really an attempt to quell criticism and opposition to the administration. It’s to distract attention from the abuses,” the indigenous leader from the Kankanaey Igorot people in the Cordillera said.