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19 August 2020

Philippines: Front Line Defenders abhors the killing of Zara Alvarez

Front Line Defenders utterly condemns the killing of Philippines human rights defender Zara Alvarez, who was shot dead by unknown assailants in Barangay Mandalagan, Bacolod City on 17 August.  Alvarez was a legal worker for the human rights group Karapatan and the research and advocacy officer of Negros Island Health Integrated Program.

Zara Alvarez’ killing follows a pattern of violence and “red-tagging” of human rights defenders in the country, a form of political harassment against activists in which authorities under the Duterte administration label them “communists”, a label which carries lethal consequences including extrajudicial killings. Just one week before Zara’s death, fellow human rights defender Randall “Randy” Echanis was murdered in his home in Quezon City. Both activists had been among the at least 600 people the Philippine Department of Justice asked a court to declare as ‘terrorists’ in 2018, although their names were subsequently removed.

A new anti-terrorism law, approved by President Duterte last month, puts human rights defenders at additional risk by making the Anti-Terrorism Council the principal law enforcer, and empowering it to designate individuals as terrorists; many of its officials have long been engaged in “red-tagging”.

There is virtual blanket impunity for the extrajudicial killings of human rights defenders in the Philippines, effectively amounting to state policy. As Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay stated today: “Zara has long been a target of military, police, and judicial harassment for her tireless and dedicated work in defending people’s rights. She had already been imprisoned for nearly two years for a now-dismissed murder charge from the military — and all of the threats that she had received were from State security forces. All fingers point to them as the perpetrators of this senseless, cold-blooded killing, which is unsurprising for a fascist regime that is strongly averse to the idea of upholding and defending human rights, and is actively and proudly engaged in violating human rights.” Cristina Palabay made her statement on the 25th founding anniversary of Karapatan, an organization that has seen dozens of its members murdered. In 2019, Front Line Defenders reported in its Global Analysis findings that 43 human rights defenders were killed in the Philippines, the second highest number globally. In the preceding two years, the Philippines ranked third highest in its numbers of killings of HRDs.

In the Philippines, civil society is calling for justice and truth. Cristina Palabay was joined by other advocate groups on today’s Global Day of Action for Justice at the Bantayog ng mga Bayani who stood in solidarity to condemn the killings of Alvarez, Echanis, and all human rights defenders who have been the target of extrajudicial killings.

Front Line Defenders expresses its deepest condolences to Zara’s family, friends and colleagues and joins the call for justice to determine the truth behind her death. Her killing signifies the continuing crisis of the persecution of the human rights community in the Philippines, a message which must be challenged by an immediate, transparent, exhaustive and impartial investigation into her death.