By Andrew Gilmour
In February, hundreds of Filipino participants in the peace process, environmental activists and human rights defenders were labeled “terrorists” by their own government. The security of the individuals on this list is at stake, and some have fled the Philippines.
The UN independent expert on the rights of indigenous peoples – Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – was on this list. This followed the vilification only months before of another UN independent expert – Agnès Callamard – who deals with extra-judicial executions. Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte declared that he wanted to slap her, and later announced that he would like to throw other UN human rights officials to the crocodiles. The national commission on human rights in the Philippines was threatened with a zero budget and its former chair, Senator Leila de Lima, is in detention for her advocacy.
Even if extreme, such sweeping threats against hundreds of civil society representatives, defenders of human rights, and UN experts labeled “terrorists” in the Philippines are symptomatic of worrying regional trends.
If governments in the region can target high profile human rights defenders and those associated with the UN with impunity, what is the message to others at community level who are not afforded the same visibility? This is likely to increase fear in those seeking the protection of the UN and other human rights actors.