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UN human rights experts urge PHL to drop petition seeking ‘terrorist’ tag for special rapporteur

United Nations human rights experts have urged the Philippine government to withdraw its petition in court that accuses a Filipina special rapporteur of terrorism and alleged membership in the communist guerilla movement.

Michel Forst, the special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, and Catalina Devandas Aguilar, chairperson of the coordination committee of the special procedures, said Thursday they were “shocked” by the accusations levelled against the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz.

Tauli-Corpuz was listed as a senior member of the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) and its armed wing, the New People's Army (NPA), in the petition filed by the Department of Justice last month that also included more than 600 people.

“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.

“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,” they said.

The UN experts said under the Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the United Nations, of which the Philippines is one of the signatories, the UN experts “have immunity from legal proceedings of every kind of spoken and written acts undertaken in the course of their mandated work.”

They said the legal action came at a time when President Rodrigo Duterte himself “publicly intimidated” special rapporteurs wanting to look into the killings being linked to his war on drugs.

New York-based Human Rights Watch echoed the UN experts’ call for the Duterte administration to drop the petition, calling it a “virtual government hit list.”

“There's a long history in the Philippines of the state security forces and pro-government militias assassinating people labeled as NPA members or supporters,” said HRW Philippines researcher Carlos Conde. 

“The Duterte administration should publicly reject this petition and ensure the safety of those listed in it – or risk being complicit in the resulting crimes,” he added.

The petition stemmed from Duterte’s signed proclamation that the CPP and NPA were terrorist groups, which followed the collapse of peace negotiations last November, citing the rebels’ continued attacks on government  security forces and civilians as reasons. 

He also announced that he would go after the “legal fronts” – the left-wing groups that allegedly support the NPA. —Virgil Lopez/KG, GMA News