Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 30, 2011.
IT’S just a booklet, but it’s everything human rights workers need when dealing with enemies.
Human rights groups, led by European Union (EU)-Philippines Justice Support Program (EPJust), launched yesterday a 34-page booklet titled Human Rights Defenders Handbook, which instructs human rights workers what to do when faced with threats to their
freedom and security.
The handbook has English, Cebuano and Tagalog versions, being the “fruit” of a massive consultation among stakeholders of human rights across the country.
“Making the handbook was a long process,” said Romina Sta. Clara, EPJust human rights expert. “With this handbook, we put life to the UN (United Nations) principles on combating impunity.”
Culture of impunity
The culture of impunity in the country remains despite national and international efforts to bring to justice perpetrators of human rights violations, said Daisy Arago, executive director of the Center for Trade Union and Human Rights, which documents human rights violations committed against workers.
“Extra-judicial killings continue to happen despite the change in leadership,” lamented Arago, who noted that the latest of such killings, which happened in Cavite, involved a union leader.
Dennis Abarrientos, chairperson of Karapatan Central Visayas, said only three out of the 24 cases of extra-judicial killings in the region since 2001 have reached the court.
Last week, four volunteers of Karapatan were illegally detained for four hours by the military in Negros Oriental, he said.
“Human rights work is not an easy task,” said Commission on Human Rights (CHR) 7 Director Alejan-dro Alonso Jr.
He said “there are still rampant violations of human rights in our midst,” even though the country is a state party “to no less than 26 international human rights instruments.”
Alonso also said the CHR is often misunderstood as being apologists of the government. He said the agency, in fact, is tasked to monitor the government’s compliance with its human rights obligations.
He lamented that the Philippines is among the countries that fail to submit reports to international human rights bodies.
“This handbook is very important. It’s like a bible for human rights workers,” Alonso said.
Abarrientos said the handbook, being handy, will be of great help to human rights advocates in the region, as they can easily refer to it when faced with security risks.
“It is an addition to the growing literature about human rights,” he said during the book’s launching at the Marco Polo Plaza Hotel.
“The handbook will not definitely resolve human rights violations, but it hopes to be a modest contribution to those who struggle to preserve human rights,” Arago said.
The EPJust will distribute the handbook to human rights workers for free.
A partnership between the EU and the Philippines, the EPJust aims to help the country bring an end to extra-legal killings and enforced disappearances of activists, journalists, unionists, farmers, among others.
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