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Oral intervention submitted by Ms. Tess Vistro of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) to the Second Session of the UN Human Rights Council, 22 September 2006, Geneva

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Agenda Item: Report of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders by Ms. Hina Jilani before the plenary session of the UNHRC at Palais des Nations

Mr. President and Distinguished Delegates,

I am Tess Vistro, speaking as a member of the Rural and Indigenous Women Task Force of the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD).

We very much welcome the Report of the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Defenders, Ms. Hina Jilani. We appreciate the special attention she has given to the situation of women human rights defenders.

Mr. President, we at the Asia Pacific Forum on Women Law and Development (APWLD) are clearly disturbed by the political killings and repression of women in the Asian region hindering our hard earned gains in women’s political participation and empowerment. Further we believe that the political killings and repression are impediments to the effort of the global women’s movement and call of various United Nations bodies for greater political participation of women.

As the new Human Rights Council begun — a body charged with promoting and protecting human rights, the most fundamental of which is the right to life- in its work to protect the rights of people around the world, we urge everyone who stand committed to protect human rights, to call on council members and all UN member states to put pressure on the governments of the Philippines, Sri Lanka, and Nepal to put to stop to the killings and political repression.

What is deplorable is the fact that the Philippines, with the country’s growing record of political killings, was elected to this newly created United Nations Human Rights Council. During the first session of the Council in June, 2006, where the Philippines sat as a member, abduction of two women occurred, and 15 extrajudicial killings happened, including the killing of couple George and Macel Vigo, both journalists based in Mindanao. Unidentified motorcycle riding men, gunned them down in broad daylight, as they were driving home in their motorcycle to their five children.

Since January 21, 2001 to September 21, 2006, the Philippine human rights organization, KARAPATAN, has documented 755 victims of political killings and 184 victims of enforced disappearance. Among the victims are journalists, lawyers, priests and lay religious leaders, leaders of peasant and trade union organizations, human rights workers, local government officials, leaders of progressive partylist organizations women leaders, youth activists. Of this total, 78 victims are women.

But what is appalling, Madam Chair is the fact that the Philippine government is unable to put a stop to this worsening problem of killings and disappearances of human rights and women human rights defenders, and unable to give protection to them. Many of the wives, mothers, children and relatives of the victims are being harassed and continue to receive death threats. Worse, they are listed in the so-called military’s order of battle. No one has been seriously prosecuted, no one has been put to justice.

The Philippine mission’s reply on Sept 19 to one of the NGO’s statements that, and I quote, “It should be only after proper court trial that certain offenses are classified conclusively as human rights violations,” does not offer any comfort. It disturbs us all the more at APWLD.

Mr. President, these political killings and repression of women human rights defenders are also happening in other parts of the region, particularly in Nepal and Sri Lanka.

We, therefore call on the Human Rights Council, to:

  • urge all its members states, particularly the Philippines, to uphold the fundamental rights of its citizens;
  • express its concern to the current political killings and repression in its member states, particularly the Philippines; and
  • undertake an independent investigative mission to the Philippines, Sri Lanka and Nepal, on the issues of political killings.

Finally, we urge the States to:

  • immediately act on their responsibility of putting the perpetrators of these political killings to justice; and
  • fulfill their obligation of protecting and promoting human rights of its citizens, regardless of their political beliefs.

The Human Rights Council, convened at this very volatile period of our history, has the urgent task of ensuring that human rights of women and men like us who are on the ground fighting for our rights, are protected and promoted.

We, at APWLD hope we did not come here in vain.