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UN Condemns Arbitrary Killings of Activists in Philippines

A woman, clenching her fist, holds a sign condemning recent government raids on activists, during a rally near the Malacanang presidential palace, in Manila, Philippines, March 8, 2021.

United Nations officials are condemning the arbitrary killing of nine activists in four provinces in the Philippines earlier this week in what they say appear to have been coordinated, simultaneous police-military operations.

This is not the first time such killings have taken place. On December 30, nine Tumandok indigenous peoples’ rights activists were killed in Panay during similar joint operations.

The U.N. human rights office reports eight men and one woman were killed in this latest joint police and military operation. Agency spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the police obtained search warrants. They were presented as part of the government’s counterinsurgency campaign against the New People’s Army, the armed wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines.

Shamdasani said security personnel then entered the activists’ homes in the dead of night and shot them.

“So, these search warrants were obtained in this context to conduct searches for weapons held as part of the communist insurgency. However … these operations were carried out in the middle of the night and those who were killed were working on issues such as the rights of fishing communities, indigenous peoples’ rights, housing rights of people rendered homeless or people who have been evicted from urban slums,” she said.

Shamdasani called the near total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military shocking, saying it must end.

“We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, and harassment and ‘red-tagging’ of human rights defenders. There is a history of human rights advocates being “red-tagged”—or being accused of being fronts for the armed wing of the Communist Party in the Philippines,” Shamdasani said.

U.N. rights chief Michele Bachelet warned in June of the dangers of such public labeling. She called for the protection of human rights defenders, journalists and others at risk.

However, Shamdasani said Bachelet’s plea has not been heeded. She said dozens of activists and several journalists have been arrested, intimidated and harassed since then.