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June 14, 2014

GENEVA, Switzerland – International human rights group Civicus and Philippine-based rights group Karapatan issued an appeal the other day to the 47 member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to urge the Philippine government to stop the attacks against indigenous peoples and environmental activists in Talaingod, Davao del Norte and elsewhere in the country.

In an oral intervention delivered by Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay before the UNHRC and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights during the 26th Human Rights Council sessions in Geneva, she cited the forcible evacuation of indigenous Manobos in Talaingod, Mindanao caused by military operations and bombings.

Palabay indicated that the Manobos’ refusal to allow mining companies to encroach on their lands exposed them to threats and harassment. “They have become victims of the Aquino government’s counter-insurgency program, Oplan Bayanihan, and they are tagged as members or supporters of the New People’s Army,” she stated, in her oral intervention during the interactive dialogue with the UN Working Group on Business and Human Rights.

“Mining companies, including Indophil Resources, have applications covering the land where the indigenous Manobos live, for gold, silver, copper, and other minerals. Their plight is akin to the situation of the indigenous communities where SMI Glencore/Xstrata has mining projects. Anti-mining activists, indigenous leaders and children were killed by military and paramilitary groups, and justice remains elusive for them,” Palabay added.

The rights groups appealed to the UN Human Rights Council to urge the Philippine government to recognize and respect the rights of communities and human rights defenders, who bear the full adverse impact of business, especially big mining, activities. They asked the Council to call on the Philippine government to adhere to international human rights standards, including the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights.

Palabay also spoke on the issue in a side event on civil society space and protection of human rights defenders jointly organized by international organisations Article19, CIVICUS, ICNL, ECNL, the World Movement for Democracy and the Permanent Mission of Ireland. Mr. Maina Kiai, UN special rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association, and Mr. Frank la Rue, UN special rapporteur on freedom of expression, were also in the said panel.

Citing Karapatan’s documentation and reports of London-based NGO Global Witness, Palabay said that aside from extrajudicial killings of indigenous peoples and activists, arrests based on false charges of environmental and anti-mining activists are on the rise. She cited the arrests and detention of physicist Kim Gargar and Tampakan anti-mining activist Romeo Rivera.

Palabay is among the members of the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights (EcuVoice) delegation of human rights defenders and church workers at the 26th sessions of the UN HRC. Joining her are Atty. Edre U. Olalia, Secretary General of the National Union of Peoples' Lawyers (NUPL), Rev. Irma Balaba, assistant programme secretary of the Christian Unity and Ecumenical Relations programme of the National Council of Churches in the Philippines; and Dr. Angie Gonzales, Atty. Mary Kristerie Baleva and Julie Palaganas of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.