If defenders of human rights are the ones being attacked by state security forces, can a country still boast of being under a democracy? Since 2001 until March this year, human rights group Karapatan revealed that 420 human rights defenders have been killed and 66 have been forcibly disappeared.
BY CHARMAINE P. LIRIO AND RONALYN V. OLEA
Human Rights Watch
These days, even human rights defenders need protection, an aberration because the country is supposedly under a democracy.
Prof. Jose Ma. Cui was a staunch human rights (HR) advocate. But his advocacy did not exempt him from the attacks.
On January 19, 2007, Cui was shot in front of his students. He was administering their midterm exams when four men shot him on the head and chest, killing him on the spot.
Cui was a human rights advocate since the dark years of Martial Law. He set-up the office of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines in Northern Samar during the late 70s. Working alone at first, he traversed long distances in remote areas in Northern Samar to document cases of human rights violations and to cater to the needs of victims and their families. He had confrontations with the military in the course of his human rights work but he survived Martial Law without a scratch.
After the Marcos dictatorship was ousted, Cui continued his involvement in human rights work in varying capacities even as he eventually pursued a career in teaching. In 1996, he became a leader of the human rights group Karapatan-Eastern Visayas chapter. Ironically, Cui, who survived the darkest years of Martial Law even as he was deeply involved in human rights work, was killed under the Arroyo government.
Cui is just one of the 37 members and leaders of Karapatan who became victims of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Arroyo government. Extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances dramatically increased with the implementation of the Arroyo government’s counterinsurgency program dubbed as Oplan Bantay Laya (Operation Freedom Watch)
As of March 31 this year, there have been 1,013 victims of extra-judicial killings in the country; 420 of these are human rights defenders and 34 are officers and members from Karapatan.
Also, out of the 204 victims of enforced disappearances, 66 are HR defenders and three are Karapatan members.
This rise in the number of HR violation victims among defenders led Karapatan to launch its campaign intending to provide protection to human rights defenders.
Be proud of your rights
Launched during the International Women’s Human Rights Day on Nov. 29 last year, the HR defenders’ campaign aims to increase public awareness on the defense of human rights.
With the tagline “I’m proud of my Karapatan,” (rights) the campaign encourages people to assert their rights and not be afraid of the state.
“Kasama sa campaign ang call for everybody to be HR defenders,” (Part of the campaign is the call for everybody to be human rights defenders) Karapatan Documentation Unit Head Lovella de Castro said in an interview with Bulatlat.
The United Nations General Assembly adopted a Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998. It took the UN 14 years to adopt it since discussions regarding the need for and the content of the declaration began in 1984. The UN defines human rights defenders as “people who, individually or with others, act to promote or protect human rights”.
According to the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, “Human rights defenders seek the promotion and protection of civil and political rights as well as the promotion, protection and realization of economic, social and cultural rights.”
“Human rights defenders address any human rights concerns, which can be as varied as, for example, summary executions, torture, arbitrary arrest and detention, female genital mutilation, discrimination, employment issues, forced evictions, access to health care, and toxic waste and its impact on the environment. Defenders are active in support of human rights as diverse as the rights to life, to food and water, to the highest attainable standard of health, to adequate housing, to a name and a nationality, to education, to freedom of movement and to non-discrimination. They sometimes address the rights of categories of persons, for example women’s rights, children’s rights, the rights of indigenous persons, the rights of refugees and internally displaced persons, and the rights of national, linguistic or sexual minorities.”
As part of the local campaign for the defense of human rights defenders, de Castro said, Karapatan would hold educational discussions in schools and universities about the defense of human rights. “Hindi terorismo ang aktibismo, ito ay tawag ng panahon. Ang aktibismo ay parte ng demokrasya,” (Activism is not terrorism, it is the call of the times. Activism is part of democracy.) de Castro asserted.
De Castro said the campaign aims to counter what she calls the ‘systematic vilification campaign’ of the state against activists.