18 August 2020
Another human rights defender murdered; cycle of bloodshed must end
Responding to the killing of activist and human rights defender Zara Alvarez in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental, Amnesty International Philippines Section Director Butch Olano said:
“Human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, farmers, the urban poor- there is no end to cold-blooded killings in the Philippines under the Duterte administration, even in the context of COVID-19.
Labelling individuals or groups as communists or ‘terrorists’, has resulted in death threats and killings of activists and human rights defenders such as Zara Alvarez, which in turn fuel further deadly violence. Her killing comes days after the murder of Randy Echanis, another activist who had been ‘red-tagged’, in his home.
“This cycle of bloodshed cannot be allowed to continue. Thousands of killings later, it is clear it falls on the international community to launch an urgent independent investigation into extrajudicial executions and human rights violations in the Philippines to put an end to overwhelming impunity and deadly violence under the current administration, establish the facts, and take steps towards ensuring justice for victims and their families.”
On the evening of 17 August 2020, human rights defender Zara Alvarez, 39, was shot dead by unknown assailants in Bacolod City, Negros Occidental. She was a paralegal for the human rights group Karapatan and the research and advocacy officer of Negros Island Health Integrated Program.
Her murder follows the recent killing of fellow activist and peace advocate Randall “Randy” Echanis in his home in Quezon City on 10 August 2020. The names of both individuals were among the hundreds of individuals that the Department of Justice asked a court to declare as ‘terrorists’ in 2018. Along with others, their names were eventually removed from the list that initially included then UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.
Under the Duterte administration, human rights defenders, activists, lawyers, farmers, and critics of the Duterte administration’s policies have been “red-tagged” and labelled as communists or “terrorists”. As a result, many have been vilified, harassed, sued and arbitrarily detained, while others have been killed in still-unresolved attacks that bear a clear connection to their work.
In June 2020, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights released a report on the human rights crisis in the Philippines, which detailed ongoing serious human rights violations in the country, including widespread and systematic extrajudicial killings. These findings are in line with the conclusions of Amnesty International and other human rights organisations. As emphasised in the report, the violations continue to be fuelled by a climate of near total impunity and continued incitement by the very highest levels of the Government.
On the basis of the OHCHR report, Amnesty International is urging the UN Human Rights Council to take action to launch an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other violations committed in the country since 2016, with a view to contributing to accountability.