TWO United Nations experts have warned against growing “militarization” in Mindanao, claiming Congress’ extension of martial law until the end of 2018 could worsen human rights violations especially in indigenous lumad communities.
In a statement, UN Special Rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary said the ongoing militarization of Mindanao was “having a massive and potentially irreversible impact on the human rights of some of the island’s indigenous lumad communities.”
“Thousands of [lumad]have already been forcibly displaced by the conflict and have seen their houses and livelihoods destroyed,” the special rapporteurs said.
“They are suffering massive abuses of their human rights, some of which are potentially irreversible. We fear the situation could deteriorate further if the extension of martial law until the end of 2018 results in even greater militarization,” they added.
Corpuz and Damary urged the Philippine government to observe its obligations under international law to protect the human rights of indigenous peoples, even during armed conflict.
They said authorities must ensure that all human rights abuses are stopped and that “there is justice and accountability for past attacks.”
“This includes killings and attacks allegedly carried out by members of the armed forces against the indigenous communities,” they added.
Corpuz is the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples. Damary is the UN special rapporteur on internally displaced people.
President Rodrigo Duterte imposed martial law over Mindanao on May 23 following the attack on Marawi City by the Maute group. In July, it was extended by Congress up to the end of 2017.
Congress approved a one-year extension until December 31, 2018 before going on a Christmas break. The extension was approved in a five-hour marathon joint session on December 13.
Opposition lawmakers have questioned the martial law extension before the Supreme Court, arguing that there was no actual rebellion to justify it as the Marawi war was declared over back in October.
Corpuz and Damary claimed the lumad, the indigenous people of Mindanao, were being attacked by military forces on the basis of “unfounded suspicions” that they were in league with militant groups, and because they were resisting mining activities in their ancestral lands.
They claimed 2,500 lumad had been displaced since October, and that lumad farmers were allegedly killed by military forces on December 3 in Barangay Ned, South Cotabato.
“Forcing indigenous peoples to leave their homes has an incalculable impact on their very lives and ways of living – one that risks erasing their culture and existence from the heritage of the Philippines, eventually forever,” the special rapporteurs said.
“The very culture and ways of life of indigenous peoples are intimately entwined with their ancestral lands and environments,” they added.
Corpuz and Damary said it was “vital to protect people’s rights even after they had been displaced.”
“The humanitarian needs of displaced indigenous peoples must be fully satisfied. It is paramount to implement solutions that allow the displaced [lumad]to return to their ancestral lands with guarantees of safety, dignity and protection,” they said.
UN criticism has angered President Duterte.
In August, Duterte lashed out at UN special rapporteur on summary executions Agnes Callamard after the latter urged the government to make sure 17-year-old Kian delos Santos’ death was “the last” amid the brutal crackdown on illegal drugs in the country.
The President earlier invited Callamard to go to the Philippines to look into the drug-related deaths recorded under his watch.
Callamard however rejected several conditions set by the Duterte administration for her visit.