By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – Amid the attacks on its members, human rights alliance Karapatan was given international recognition for its human rights work.
U.S.-based Human Rights First presented its William D. Zabel Human Rights Award to Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights during Human Rights First Spring Social event on June 4.
“No one demonstrates courage better than human rights defenders and human rights workers,” Human Rights First Emeritus Board Chair William D. Zabel said as he presented the award to Karapatan. “Karapatan embodies the work of human rights defenders. Thank you Karapatan.”
William D. Zabel Human Rights Award is given every year to acknowledge the work of activists and human rights organizations who are in the “frontline of the struggle for freedom and human rights.”
Roneo Clamor, deputy secretary general of Karapatan, underscored the importance of the recognition amid the continuous attacks on Karapatan and their members.
“It’s like a slap in the face of our government,” Clamor said in a video message.
“This award also comes at a crucial time, against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis and alarming democratic backsliding in the Philippines, and this award is a recognition of the tremendous challenges we currently face amid worsening attacks on human rights defenders, police brutality, militarization, and the narrowing of civic and democratic spaces in the country,” the group said in a statement.
Karapatan has been persistently tagged as a front organization of the Communist Party of the Philippines and the New People’s Army. Its members, including their chairperson, Elisa Lubi and Karapatan-Southern Mindanao Region secretary general Jayvee “Jay” Apiag have been slapped with trumped up charges by the military.
Fifteen human rights defenders were killed in the past five years, according to Karapatan.
Relatives of victims of human rights violations and supporters extended their congratulatory messages to Karapatan.
Sen. Leila De Lima said in a video statement that the award given to Karapatan recognizes its immense contribution in the country’s human rights landscape since it was established in 1995.
She added that it is also a fitting tribute to “all men and women members of Karapatan who selflessly sacrificed their lives and freedoms so others can enjoy their rights and thrive in a society where respect for human rights and the rule of law reigns supreme…”
“The international recognition given to us, particularly Karapatan’s Zabel human rights award, should not only help shine a bright light on our efforts but should propel us to do more, to give more and to be more, for the disadvantaged among our Filipino brothers and sisters,” said De Lima.
Clarissa Ramos, wife of the slain human rights worker Benjamin Ramos, also commended Karapatan’s bravery amid the dangers they face with their work.
“I’m ever proud of the people working with Karapatan – they never fail to be with those who became victims of these injustices. They continue to have the courage to speak up, despite the threats and dangers to their lives and liberty,” said Ramos.
Meanwhile, Satur Ocampo, former Bayan Muna representative and founding member of Karapatan said the Zabel award “indirectly indicts the US government’s program for counterinsurgency in Iraq and Afghanistan, and subsequently the anti-terror war which has worsened the situation in the Philippines, when George Bush has declared the Philippines the second front in the war on terror.”
“We are confident however that Karapatan having endured, survived all of the harassment, persecution, even the abduction and imprisonment of its workers will carry on its job of protecting the human rights of the Filipino people,” Ocampo added.
Karapatan legal counsel Maria Sol Taule meanwhile said that it is important that the US government withdraw its military aid in the Philippines because it is the reason why human rights violations exist.
“Arming the military men who are basically mercenaries barging into communities in far flung areas, in indigenous people’s communities. This has caused the lives of many farmers indigenous peoples and common Filipinos who work in the advancement of the rights in their communities,” Taule said.
Commission on Human Rights Chairperson Chito Gascon, artist Maria Isabel Lopez, National Council of Churches in the Philippines Secretary General Bishop Reuel Marigza among others also conveyed congratulatory messages to the group.
‘We never want to exist’
In a short video presented during the event, Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said that they actually do not want to exist as an organization “because our mere existence means that there is something that needs to be corrected in society.”
Taule also said that the Zabel award also means that the lives and the contribution of their colleagues who were killed by state forces have not gone in vain.
Meanwhile, the Human Rights First and Karapatan are currently working on a pilot project testing “Digital Shield,” an application that tracks threats of violence and harassment made against the organization and its members online.