Bayan, Karapatan Raise Violations of Economic Rights and Threats to Human Rights Defenders Before UN Body

(GENEVA) The umbrella group Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) and the human rights group Karapatan today attended a briefing of the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights a day before the scheduled review of the Philippine government’s compliance with the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural rights.

Among the issues raised were the plight of activist leaders from Southern Tagalog and Metro Manila, more than 30 of whom are now faced with arrest warrants or are being detained after being charged with multiple murders. Among those already arrested is Atty. Remigio Saladero who is also chief legal counsel for the labor group Kilusang Mayo Uno.

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) is the body of independent experts that monitors implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) by its States parties. The Committee was established under ECOSOC Resolution 1985/17 of 28 May 1985 to carry out the monitoring functions assigned to the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) in Part IV of the Covenant.

All States parties are obliged to submit regular reports to the Committee on how the rights are being implemented. States must report initially within two years of accepting the Covenant and thereafter every five years. The Committee examines each report and addresses its concerns and recommendations to the State party in the form of “concluding observations”.

The Committee meets in Geneva and normally holds two sessions per year, consisting of a three-week plenary and a one-week pre-sessional working group.

The Philippine government will be presenting a report on November 11. The last time it did so was thirteen years ago in 1995.

Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes, Jr. highlighted the issues of landlessness as a major problem affecting the majority of Filipinos. The group underscored the failures of the present land reform program being implemented by the Arroyo administration. Karapatan Secretary General Marie Enriquez meanwhile called attention to the links between poverty and rampant human rights absues.

“We expect the Philippine government to paint a rosy picture of progress and development. This is in stark contrast to the harsh realities of massive poverty, landlessness, hunger, sub-human wages, displacement and environmental destruction. The Philippine government has not fulfilled its obligations in the ICESCR,” Reyes said.

“We hope that the committee would see that the so-called economic growth under the Arroyo government is shallow and does not reflect any meaningful distribution of wealth. The country and its poor are more vulnerable now to the global financial crisis gripping the world economy, “Reyes added.

When asked by a committee member if being a human rights defender was a dangerous job in the Philippines, Enriquez replied in the affirmative and cited the case of the more than 30 Southern Tagalog activists now facing arrest warrants for alleged multiple murders.

“Those that the government were not able to kill, they are now trying to put behind bars. This includes human rights defenders such as labor leaders, farmers, women activists, and even lawyers. We believe that the legal offensive in Southern Tagalog is being orchestrated by the Inter Agency Legal Action Group or IALAG, an agency UN rapporteur Philip Alston already recommended for abolition,” Enriquez said.

“Extrajudicial killings, while numerically on a decline, continue in some parts of the country. Just recently peasant leader Danny Qualbar was shot on his way home on November 6,” Enriquez said.

Aside from the Philippine government panel, Commission on Human Rights chair Leila de Lima is also scheduled to brief the committee as an independent National Human Rights Institution.

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