Category: Opinion


by Renato G. Mabunga

(This article has been presented by the author to the delegates of the 6th Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (6th AHRDF) held in Quezon City, Philippines on 3-5 December 2014)

 

Though use inter-changeably and oftentimes carries the same meaning, intent and even connotation, there is a THIN LINE DISTINCTION between Security of Human Rights Defenders (HRDs) and the Protection of Human Rights Workers.

Coming from an Organization Development (OD) perspective: Security of HRD speaks more of the assessment of the Slide2internal realities of individual defenders and their organizations vis-à-vis their actual experience and perceptions in the conduct of doing human rights work. It is an evaluation of perceived risks and threats that directly impacts on one’s personal commitment (to the cause of human rights), involvement (to organizations), and sustainability of seeing through some changes in the external situation. It also defines the degree of threshold for organization indicating critical shift or change in the conduct of operation – from a normal, acceptable level of usual activities to conscious weighing of the impact and dangers of particular action to the lives of the implementers and/or the target communities.

Protection of HRDs, on the other hand, is a response or measures derived from the assessment of risks and threats. This could either be personal or at the individual level, or organizational. And, may take the form of internal policies of the organization or personal disciplinary measures and precautions of individual HRDs. All of which are aimed at lessening risks and threats. Continue reading

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The UN Special Rapperteur on HRD, Michel Forst with Asian HRD-subregional workshop group reporters during the 6th Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (AHRDF) in Quezon City, Philippines, 3-5 December 2014. (Photo by FORUM-ASIA)

The UN Special Rapperteur on HRD, Michel Forst with Asian HRD-subregional workshop group reporters during the 6th Asian Human Rights Defenders Forum (AHRDF) in Quezon City, Philippines, 3-5 December 2014. (Photo by Jerbert Briola)

 

 

Human rights defenders from around the world gathered in Manila last week to consolidate “protection platforms” for human rights workers. The meeting highlighted various protection initiatives on the ground and the challenges for their implementation.

The event tracked various organizational protection systems and mechanisms as stopgap measures against violations of the rights of activists. It also mapped out effective engagement and cooperation with the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

In his speech, Michel Forst, the UN rapporteur, noted that Asian human rights defenders are the most threatened, intimidated or investigated.

They are also the most harassed or criminalized, and the most likely to be prevented from travelling.

Such violations and denials of fundamental freedoms have been aimed to discredit, silence and eliminate human rights defenders in the region, he said.

Forst observed that the space for civil society and human rights defenders in the Asian region has shrunk while state and non-state entities in Asia use “sophisticated patterns of attacks” to impede the legitimate work of human rights defenders.

Indeed, Asian human rights defenders are facing increasing restrictions on freedom of expression and information, on the rights to freedoms of association and peaceful assembly and the criminalization, vilification and use of judicial harassment in persecuting development workers and even environmental activists.

It is precisely because of the critical role of human rights defenders in promoting human rights awareness and debate at national and international levels that many find their own rights flagrantly violated by repressive governments.

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Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?

Press Conference: CHR human rights protector or violator?

By Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA)[1]

I.          General Overview

President Benigno Aquino III considered 2012 a year of continued resurgence of the economy bolstered with increased confidence in good governance. He took pride in the dramatic leaps the country has taken in the global competitive index of the World Economic Forum; the unprecedented attainment of investment-grade status from the most respected credit ratings agencies in the world; and the astounding 6.8 percent Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth in 2012.[2]

Amidst this enthusiasm, cases of extra-judicial killings (EJK), enforced disappearances, torture, illegal arrests as well as other political, civil, economic, social and cultural rights violations increase halfway into the Aquino administration. What becomes alarming “is the growing number of threats and killings of rights defenders” as observed by the UN Special Rapporteurs on human rights defenders, Margaret Sekaggya, and on extrajudicial killings, Christof Heyns.[3]

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Hear the voices of the oppressed

universal-declaration-of-human-rightsSince 1950, the United Nations has commemorated the historic adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a “common standard of achievement for all people and all nations.”

Ironically, on its 64th anniversary today, millions of people around the world still long to realize at least the most basic of this common standard for humanity: the recognition of the “inherent dignity and the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family as the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.”

The continuing uprisings in the Arab world, the protests sweeping major cities and urban centers in Europe, the Americas and Africa, the continuing difficult situations in Asia, all highlight deficiencies of human rights in governance and the non-recognition of peoples’ aspirations for inclusion and a desire for meaningful participation in public affairs that affect their lives.

Public demonstrations and assemblies are deeper than mere assertions of the individual’s civil, political, economic and cultural rights. They are demands to take part in decision-making, an assertion of a sovereign power that is abused by many state leaders.

Instead of settling issues through genuine dialogues and consultations, most governments trample basic freedom of expression, assembly and association in the guise of “national interests and security.”

Lately in Singapore, human rights defenders and bus drivers, He Jun Ling, Gao Yue Qiang, Liu Xiangying and Wang Xian Jie, who were employed by the state-controlled public transport operator SMRT Ltd., were charged in court with “inciting an illegal strike” among their co-workers. They protested against poor living conditions in company dormitories and low wages.

In Myanmar, authorities resorted to old violent methods in a clear attempt to silence growing dissent. Riot police attacked protest camps near the Letpadaung mine, setting camps on fire, burning protesting monks and arresting protest organizers Ko Wai Lu, Daw Shan Ma, Ko Myo Chit, Ko Ye Lin, Daw Naw Ohn Hla and Ko Nyi Nyi.

They were calling for environmental protection and reclaiming their lands that were confiscated by the joint venture of China’s Wanbao Company and the military-owned Union of Myanmar Economic Holdings Ltd.  There is continuing ethnic violence in Rakhine state and persecution of Rohingya people.

In the Philippines, extrajudicial executions of human rights defenders and mining activists continue. Armed men believed to be hired goons, or associated with private armies and paramilitary groups, carry out most of the killings. Appalling violations are perpetrated by soldiers acting on behalf of private corporations and/or on mere suspicions.

 

 

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The landmark signing of an initial peace agreement between the Philippine government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) has reinvigorated hopes of a peaceful resolution of the decades-long conflict in Mindanao.

The framework peace deal lays the foundations for a “just peace” that should be guided by human values and international standards of good governance, human rights and the dignity of peoples and communities.

The peace deal is supposed to aim at the full development of a nation, nay of a community, guaranteed by the supreme sovereignty of the people.

What can be observed in the “framework agreement” signed by government and rebel peace negotiators this month is the truthful reference to the pains and aspirations of the people of Mindanao and its adjacent islands.

Unfortunately, only well-intentioned individuals, the wounded and those who empathize with the people of Mindanao can fully appreciate, without equivocation, the agreement. It comes out devoid of pretension and political subtlety.

People in Mindanao (and even outsiders), however, should understand that peace is not a political compromise between conflicting parties. Political compromises connote the satisfaction of vested interests of opposing camps.

Peace is a resolution of tensions perpetrated by warring parties. Negotiations should only serve a higher unifying goal. The warring groups stole peace and owe it to the people of Mindanao. Payback time should be now.

The peace process that the MILF and the government went through was a courageous show of rising above human frailties. It was an act of acceptance of the parties’ failures to the masses.

We all should also be reminded that the “framework agreement” is only a legal manifestation of intent. It is not yet “the peace agreement.”

What makes peace is making details work according to agreed principles, and the satisfaction of all requisites in restoring people to a collective dignified existence.

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By Dr. Renato G. Mabunga

Guaranteed right and freedom of speech and expression has experienced “black Tuesday” on the Feast of the Holy Guardian Angels in the Philippines.  This happened amid the mounting protest against the newly enacted Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 or the Republic Act 10175.  This draconian legislation rightly infringes on the Bill of Rights under the Philippine 1987 Constitution; criminalizes netizens’ participation for good governance; and, does away with the concepts of freedom and justice within the moral bounds and teachings of great religions.  Even guardian angels would on Tuesday dare up doubling efforts prodding their charges on impending deluge brought about by this cybercrime law.

The world in general adheres to the right to freedom of opinion and expression.  The Philippines guarantees such right saying, no laws shall be passed abridging it including that of the press and the rights of the people to petition the government for redress and grievances.  This includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.

On 5th July this year the United NationsHuman Rights Council (UNHRC) unanimously approved a resolution that internet access and online freedom of expression is a basic human rights.  It declares that all people be allowed to connect to and express themselves freely on the Internet.

The Philippines, a third-term member of the Council, has just turned against the resolution when it signed its country’s cybercrime law on 12th September penalizing anyone from 4 to 12 year imprisonment or a fine of up to 1 million pesos if found violating the provisions of the law or posting defamatory comments on social networking sites such as facebook, tweeter and blogs.  It views online expressions as threats to government power rather than a tool in realizing power for the people and a unique platform in combating inequality, protection and fulfillment of a wide-range of human rights.  Insertions of provisions tantamount to censorship and ground for wanton abuse are contraventions of their avowed commitment to the international laws on human rights.  As the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression opined, the priority of governments should be the facilitation of Internet access for all individuals, with as little restriction to online content as possible.

Today, legislators are scrambling for alibis as Filipino internet users warned of a Martial Law online.  They are carrying silent protests, blackening out their internet profiles, doing offline activities, petitioning the Supreme Court and marching in protest for the repeal of the just enacted cybercrime law for its unconstitutionality.  Guardian angels have a hand on it?  Maybe netizens post as “guardian angels” to other citizens. 

On September 21, the world commemorates the “International Day of Peace”.  All nations, governments, private and non-governmental organizations and individuals are enjoined to observe secession of hostilities through activities celebrating the ideals of peace.  This event coincides with the anniversary of the dark period of Philippines history when the Dictatorship regime of President Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in 1972.  The country fell to “silence”.  Peace was fear.

Today, the UN calls for “sustainable peace for sustainable future”, highlighting the use and abuse of land and natural resources in instigating conflict situations around the world.  It calls all its member-states to initiate “ceasefires” and let up to the wanton destruction of environment and the bloody massacre of people defending ancestral domains.  The call falls into silence.  Peace is a dream.

Weeks ago, a Subanen Tribal leader in the Philippines, Timuay Locenio Magda was ambushed killing his 11-year old son Jason by unknown assailants in the Bayog, Zamboanga del Sur.  The incident is alleged to have instigated over dispute on ancestral domain claim with several mining companies on the sacred Pinukis Range Forest – a watershed for 3 major rice-growing regions in Zamboanga Peninsula.  His is the 36th case documented in the area alone under the present administration.

For 6 years now, villagers of Gangjeong, South Korea are protesting the construction of a naval base in Jeju Island, declared the Island of Peace by the same government.  Peaceful protests are continually met with force and violence.

In Cambodia, the government’s abuse of law and misuse of the courts has led to the displacement of the Boeung Kak and Borie Keila communities in Phnom Penh.  Such practice is extended to persecute activists and human rights defenders like Yorm Bopha and Tim Sakmony, who were arrested on September 4 and 5, respectively, on dubious charges.

Early September in Myanmar, Wai Lu was arrested for helping farmers win back their land from a copper mining company in Latpadaung mountain range allegedly under the country’s Religious Offenses Act.

Attacks against communities underscore the connection of peace, human rights and the aggressive promotion of “progress” that misplaces people in the development process.  As conditions of people worsen, governments create further magical illusion covering up their violations and obligations.  They speak of peace and draw a future far from the aspiration of people struggling to survive and live with dignity.  Peace is corrupted by political and economic individualism and greed.  Yet, it remains a symbol of resistance and a source of courage for the afflicted.

Peace and sustainable future describes the legitimacy of the continuing struggle of indigenous peoples, communities and environment activists in protecting ancestral land, their life, culture and future against corporations and armed groups.  Peace provides the assertion of communities and peoples as the center of development.  It debunks the idea of peace as a mere construct.  It asserts that peace is an action fueled by inspirations and sacrifices of peoples and nations searching for a sustainable future.

As the 31st International Day of Peace is celebrated, peoples in various parts of the globe continue to clamor for it, act on it and die for it.  In the same manner, Filipinos are to remember Martial law on its 40th  year (Remember ML@40), the world must recall that indeed, tyrants can be overthrown, people have the power, and peace is a possibility.  As the dark days linger on with peace remaining elusive and a future bleak, everybody needs to consolidate the lessons of history, muster the courage to block its horrors and lay down a solid foundation for peace mindful of the universal dignity of all and for all.

In 2010 President Benigno Aquino said the process of providing “true and complete justice for all” has begun. Two years later, human rights groups documented 13 cases of summary executions.

The latest victim of the assassins was Dutch missionary Wilhelmus Geertman, a Church worker who opted to live with the poor. He was killed by still unidentified assailants on July 3 in Angeles City in the province of Pampanga.

Later this month, when President Aquino delivers his state of the nation address, we expect another promise to put killers and human rights violators behind bars.

Whether in words or intentions, common to both Aquino’s pronouncements and the statements of victims of rights violations is the longing for justice.

For two years, the president has expressed weariness over worrying about justice. The families of victims, meanwhile, worry about weathering justice. The president’s weariness has been interpreted as procrastination. The victims’ call is a virtue to action.

The government has been quick to debunk accusations that it is doing nothing. Government officials said cases have been filed and everything has been done within the powers of the courts. The executive department has been helpless about it, Aquino spokesmen have said.

Indeed, the president need not interfere in court proceedings, but he has all the powers to ensure truthful and impartial investigations and the strength of his office to get rid of “scalawags in uniform.”

The president can indeed regulate the greed of business interests that hire goons to harass communities and kill environmental and human rights activists. His is the influence to assure communities that harm will never beset those who testify in cases against rights violators and criminals.

It is not how much one has projected one’s intentions. It is how far one has combated impunity. It is not the number of cases filed but how many convictions have resulted from it. It is not comparison of statistics from former administrations but how justice is rendered and how strong mechanisms are instituted to stop extrajudicial killings.

Extrajudicial executions are not accidental. These are planned to wipe out hindrances to attaining vested desires. Assassinations are grandiose displays of wickedness. The weapon is brutality, impunity its armor and terror its strength.

Click here to read full article: http://www.ucanews.com/2012/07/16/aquino-needs-fewer-words-and-more-action/

On Tuesday, the United Nations marked the “International Day in Support of Torture Victims.” It was a significant day filled with simple and substantial ironies.

In Manila, about 600 human rights advocates, military and police personnel “tortured” motorists who were stranded on a major thoroughfare while a procession demonstrating against torture passed.

A more significant irony was the declaration of the country’s police and military headquarters as “torture-free zones” even as detainees claimed the contrary.

Freedom from torture is neither a palliative nor a piece of legislation that a government brags about to hide its non-compliance. Freedom from torture is supposed to be a product of an organizational culture deeply imbedded in the practice of good policing and security service.

 

Read Full Article:  http://www.ucanews.com/2012/06/27/defeating-the-twisted-culture-of-torture/

Political will plus conviction of all can achieve the goal of a free and just society
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     Renato Mabunga, Manila Philippines February 17, 2012

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Recent developments in Myanmar have brought to the fore a growing movement in previously isolated countries in Southeast Asia.

These countries have had no choice but to reach out and work together, either voluntarily or involuntarily, because of the emergence of new regional alliances, advances in telecommunications, biotechnology and transportation that has prompted unprecedented demographic shifts.

Countries like the Philippines, Myanmar, Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia, which all have suffered from extreme poverty and illiteracy, are now starting to talk more openly and loudly about human rights protection, though their performance on this issue still fails to meet  international expectations and the subject is still treated in a selective, if not politicized, manner.

Most of these governments continue to hide behind the cloak of “non-interference in national affairs” when confronted with compliance to international laws. What continues to be generally lacking is the political will and conviction to apply governance based on a rights-based approach.

Issues are tackled devoid of sincerity and accountability. They are handled as political gimmickry often at the expense of the basic entitlements of the people. “Active” citizens have not been developed. People seldom know their rights while education, an essential precondition for the implementation of human rights, continues to be wanting.

A comprehensive and integrated approach is called for in the region to develop education and subsequently human rights.  A similar effort is called for to bring about changes in attitudes.

In this part of the world, states need to ensure domestic mechanisms and remedies are in place. Mechanisms should lay out the principles of consultation, non-discrimination and active participation of stakeholders.

Democratic institutions should take root and perform their mandate free from political influence or “pay-offs.” Processes need to be people-centered, participatory and environmentally sound, and not only focused on economic growth.

Priority must be given to poverty elimination, integration of women into the development process, self-reliance and self-determination of people and governments, and to the protection of the rights of vulnerable groups.

Proposed plans of action and programs coming from these countries must be deliberated carefully and costed.

Civil society and non-governmental organizations should also play a vital role in shaping and evolving a democracy. Their credibility lies in responsible and constructive engagements with grassroots movements

There are many challenges today when it comes to incorporating human rights in the affairs of state. Basic to all of these is the knowledge that human rights are a responsibility of all, for all.

continue reading: http://www.ucanews.com/2012/02/17/rights-challenges-in-southeast-asia/

 

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