UN human rights experts have expressed grave concerns about the president of the Philippines, who is accusing the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of Indigenous peoples, Ms. Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, a Philippine national, of terrorism.
The legal petition listing her name is an unacceptable attack against the mandate holder by the Philippines Government, the UN said.
“We are shocked that the Special Rapporteur is being targeted because of her work defending the rights of Indigenous peoples,” said the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst, and the Chairperson of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures Catalina Devandas Aguilar.
The UN expert was named in a Government petition filed last month in a Manila court, accused of terrorism and alleged membership of the New People’s Army and the Communist Party of the Philippines along with over 600 others.
“The accusation against her comes after the public comments made, jointly with other Special Rapporteurs, in relation to the militarization, attacks and killings of Indigenous Lumad peoples by members of the armed forces in Mindanao; this accusation is considered as an act of retaliation for such comments,” the experts said.
The Special Rapporteur most recently addressed the issue in a news release on 27 December 2017, which was made in line with the responsibility entrusted to her by the Human Rights Council to report on alleged violations of Indigenous people’s rights globally. The President’s spokesperson reacted with hostility to the news release, publicly accusing the Special Rapporteur of seeking to embarrass Filipino president Duterte’s administration.
“We call on the Philippine authorities to immediately drop these unfounded accusations against Ms. Tauli-Corpuz and to ensure her physical safety and that of others listed,” the UN experts said.
“We remind the Philippine Government of its obligations under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations of 1946, which sets out that United Nations experts have immunity from legal proceedings of every kind of spoken and written acts undertaken in the course of their mandated work,” the experts added.
“The attack against the Special Rapporteur is taking place in the context of widespread extrajudicial executions and ongoing attacks against voices who are critical of the current Government, including human rights defenders. The President has himself publicly intimidated Special Rapporteurs.
“Ms. Tauli-Corpuz is a human rights defender,” the experts said. “Therefore, the Government of the Philippines has a duty under the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders to guarantee her right to promote and to strive for the realization of human rights.”
The Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.
Ms. Tauli-Corpuz was appointed the UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People in 2016. A member of the Kankanaey Igorot people in the Philippines, she is one of the Indigenous leaders who helped draft the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in 1993 and then lobbied for it for more than 20 years until the UN General Assembly finally adopted the treaty in 2007.
As a youth activist in the early 1970s, Tauli-Corpuz helped build the Indigenous peoples’ movement in the Philippines’ Cordillera region. She organized local Indigenous communities to fight against projects promoted by the Marcos dictatorship, such as the Chico River Hydroelectric Dam and the Cellophil Resources Corporation, which would have displaced several local tribes. An ardent human and women’s rights advocate as well, Tauli-Corpuz has founded and managed various nonprofits involved in raising awareness about social ills, climate change, and the advancement of Indigenous peoples’ and women’s rights. In 1996, she set up the Tebtebba Foundation, which seeks to promote Indigenous peoples’ perspectives on key issues such as human rights, sustainable development, and the environment. An expert for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Tauli-Corpuz says that at the heart of the many challenges Indigenous people still face is the so-called “mainstream world’s” failure to recognize that Indigenous groups should be able to determine the course of their own development.