March 2017

Philippines: Compostela mourns three farmer activists killed in one day

Local members protesting against the killings of farmer activists in Compostela.

DAVAO CITY, — Three farmer activists, including a couple, were all killed on March 27, in Compostela Valley, barely a week before the fourth round of peace talks are set to begin between the NPA and the Philippine government.

The victims were named as Cora Molave Lina (45) and Arman and Arlyn Almonicar, a couple, all of whom were members of Nagkahiusang Mag-uuma sa Laak, Compostela Valley (United Farmers of Laak, Compostela Valley).

According to local reports “Lina had been receiving threats from the military and was summoned many times by the military to visit their battalion camp. She had also been tagged as a sympathiser of the New People’s Army”.

According to a source as reported in Davao Today, ”they lend their vehicle to farmers who will attend forums or mobilisations, just like in January during a peace forum in Laak, Compostela Valley,” the source said.

The forum last January 10 was organized by the National Democratic Front of the Philippines and the New People’s Army.

Philippine human rights organisation Karapatan pointed to the members of the intelligence unit of the 60th Infantry Battalion based in Laak as the suspected perpetrators of the crime.

Arman and Arlyn were the second couple killed in Compostela Valley this year.

On March 2, Ramon and Leonila Pesadilla were killed inside their house in Barangay Osmeña in Compostela town, Compostela Valley Province.

Ramon and Leonila were members of the Compostela Farmers Association, a local anti-mining group, which reported that they had being tagged as members of a rebel organisation by the military.

The military has denied the accusations.

Second lieutenant Amadeus Celestial, civil military operation officer of the 60th Infantry Battalion told Davao Today, “definitely we do not have any involvement on the case. Our troops are intact and we do not engage in those activities”.

He added that apart from gathering information, the work carried out by members of their intelligence unit facilitates rebels who wish to surrender, “particularly those who have concerns for their safety,” Amadeus said.

Meanwhile, the Unyon ng mga Manggagawa sa Agrikultura in Southern Mindanao condemned the killing of the farmers.

Lito Lao, chairperson of UMA-SMR is quoted as saying that if the killings continue, “this government is in a far worse position than the past regime of Aquino.”

According to Lao a total of 15 farmers and activists were killed in Southern Mindanao under the Duterte administration. Lao believes, “most were perpetrated by suspected military operatives.”

According to Cristina Palabay, Secretary General of Karapatan, a human rights Philippines based NGO, efforts of journalists to report on extra-judicial killings in the Philippines should be lauded, instead of being toned down…we enjoin journalists to report on the increasing number of political killings, illegal arrests, bombing of communities and other human rights abuses of State actors, in relation to the counter-insurgency program and all-out-war of the Duterte regime and the AFP.

Cristina continues, what is needed to solve crimes and sustainably counter the social malaise causing insecurity among Filipinos are political reforms that address landlessness, lack of secure jobs and living wages, accessible social services and utilities, rural development and national industrialisation.

Mexico: Third journalist killed in a month

On the morning of Thursday 23 March, distinguished journalist Miroslava Breach Velducea was shot dead in Chihuahua as she was leaving her home with one of her children. She was shot several times in the head and died on the way to hospital. Miroslava was the third journalist killed in Mexico this month. A sign left at the crime scene said “tattletale”.

Miroslava has worked as an investigative journalist since the 1980’s and was known for her strong support for democracy and human rights. As a journalist, she had paid particular attention to the issue of forced displacement and land rights issues, which particularly affect indigenous communities in Chihuahua. She had also written on the issue of women’s rights in the region and more recently had focused on the role of local drug and criminal cartels and their connections to the political world. For 15 years she had been a correspondent for national daily La Jornada and was has also worked for the news agency El Norte de Juárez.

Miroslava had been an active participant in the campaign to demand action at state and federal level to protect women human rights defenders and journalists. In a joint statement, the Inter American Commission on Human Rights, the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression,  have demanded action by the government of Mexico to address the exceptionally high level of impunity for political killings in Chihuahua. According to the statement, “Only then will journalists and human rights defenders have any reasonable hope of being able to carry out their work without the fear of attack”.

“Miroslava denounced organized crime and also acts of corruption in the state Chihuahua, and that work is now our main line of investigation,” said Chihuahua’s governor, Javier Corral, who first met Breach in the 1990s.

In a televised news conference, he called her “courageous,” praised her “acute criticism” of society and the political class, and said the state would honour her with three days of mourning.

According to the National Commission for Human Rights, Chihuahua is the third most dangerous state in Mexico for journalists. The Attorney General’s office has sent a team of experts to Chihuahua to carry out an investigation. In a statement to Congress, journalist César Ibarra said, “ It wounds me deeply that at any moment a friend and colleague can be killed simply for telling the truth. We are not here with a political agenda but rather as fellow reporters to demand justice for our murdered colleagues”.

Front Line Defenders has condemned the killing of Miroslava Breach Velducea and is calling on both the state and federal governments to take effective action to protect journalists and human rights defenders.

Colombia: Leader of Madre Tierra movement in Cauca shot dead

On 20 March Javier Oteca, one of the leading members of the Madre Tierra movement for the liberation of land in Corinto, Cauca, was shot dead. The killing was, allegedly, carried out by workers from the sugar plantations on the Miraflores estate, only yards away from a police and army check point.

Since the beginning of the land liberation movement, the members of Madre Tierra have been the constant target of smear campaigns, threats and physical attacks by workers from local large estates. They have also been attacked by army and police members, who have demolished their houses, destroyed their crops and opened fire on them indiscriminately. Now they are killing them.

Javier Oteca has been an active member of the Madre Tierra movement since 2014. The land liberation movement began in Cauca, because of the lack of access to farming land due to the government’s persistent failure to deal with the issue of land reform.

Javier was one of the most prominent leaders of the Madre Tierra movement, providing leadership and defending the rights of his community. Local community leaders are calling on the authorities to carry out an immediate investigation to bring both the perpetrators and the intellectual authors of this crime to justice, and to ensure that it does not remain in impunity like so many other killings.

The community is also calling on international human rights organisations to expose the wave of violence to which community leaders are being subjected. In a statement  condemning the killing, the members of the “Consejo Regional Indígena Cauca” said, “We are angry that one of our community has been the target of this brutal act of violence simply because he stood up for the collective rights of the Nasa people”.

Brazil: Leading land rights activist shot dead in hospital while recovering from previous attempt on his life

Waldomiro Costa Pereira, an activist with the Landless Workers Movement (MST), was killed on Monday 20 March, when gunmen stormed the hospital in Parauapebas in north-eastern Brazil’s Pará state where he was recovering from an earlier attempt on his life.

Video footage from the hospital security system shows the killers arriving on two motorbikes at the hospital where they overpowered the security guards before heading straight to the room where Waldomiro was recovering from surgery.

Waldomiro was a survivor of the April 17, 1996 massacre in the Amazonian State of Pará in which 19 peasants were killed. The policemen who were accused of carrying out that massacre are still awaiting trial. Although Waldomiro had resigned two years ago as one of the regional leaders of the MST in Pará, he was still considered one of the most important activists in the peasant movement in the region.

Brazil has become one of the world’s most dangerous countries for land rights activists – with 61 killings last year – the highest level since 2003, according to the Pastoral Land Commission (CPT), a Brazilian advocacy group. According to an MST spokesperson, “Impunity has become commonplace, as has the action of criminal militia groups.” The spokesperson, who wished to remain anonymous for security reasons, said  that Pereira had been a long-time activist in the struggle for agrarian reform.

Conflicts over territory are common in Brazil where 1% of the population owns nearly half of the nation’s land, according to a 2016 study from the University of Windsor in Canada.

Thailand: Minority rights defender Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, shot dead in Chiang Mai province.


Chaiyaphum Pasae, 17, was shot dead on 17 March, 2017 after soldiers apprehended him during an “anti-drug operation” in Chiang Dao district of Thailand’s northern Chiang Mai province.  However, there are many questions to be asked about this killing as, according to Human Rights Watch, “Abusive officials have long used anti-drug operations to cover their attacks on activists who exposed official wrongdoing or defended minority rights.”

Chaiyaphum  was a well-known activist from the Young Seedlings Network Camp in Chiang Dao district. He was involved in numerous campaigns to promote the rights of ethnic Lahu and other vulnerable ethnic minorities in northern Thailand, helping them to gain citizenship, health care, and access to education. He also spoke out against abuses by Thai security forces against his community during anti-drug operations.

On 15 March, he was among 19 youth representatives of ethnic minorities who attended a youth activist forum organised by the National Institute for Child and Family Development in Bangkok. Chaiyaphum was also a musician and documentary film maker and was awarded a prize at the 16th Thai Short Film and Video Festival for a short film called ‘Belt and Comb’. Several of his short documentaries were broadcast on Thai PBS.

According to the account of the soldiers at the checkpoint, they stopped the black Honda Jazz sedan which was being driven by 19 year old Pongsanai Saengtala. Chaiyaphum was a passenger in the car. The two young men stepped out of the car and, allegedly, there was an argument between them and the military officials. Later Chaiyaphum was found dead from a gunshot wound close to the military checkpoint. The soldiers said that Chaiyaphum escaped from the soldiers, pulled a knife out of the car’s trunk, fought his way past them, and ran into the nearby jungle. Soldiers claimed that they pursued him and when Chaiyaphum was about to throw a hand grenade at them, shot him in self-defense. They have not explained how a detained person obtained the knife or grenade.

Another killing in remarkably similar circumstances took place on 15 February 2017 when 32 year old Abe Moo was also the victim of an extrajudicial killing, committed by military officials under the command of the 2nd Company of the 1st Operation Command, the Taskforce of the Fifth Cavalry Regiment, King’s Guard. The authorities presented the same reasons and circumstances to justify their action, claiming that the soldiers had been conducting a search for drugs and had found drugs in the possession of Abe Moo. They also claimed that Abe Moo attempted to escape and  was shot dead as he was preparing to hurl a grenade at the officials.

The soldier responsible for killing Chaiyaphum Pasae has been arrested and charged with murder.


Colombia: 766 Human rights defenders killed since 1994

The recent Annual Report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights on the Situation of Human Rights in Colombia expressed concern at the fact that despite an overall decline in general levels of violence, the number of killings of human rights defenders and community leaders has actually increased, with 127 such killings reported in 2016.

The report warns that armed groups are occupying drug territories as the nation’s largest rebel group starts demobilising. The killings have stirred fears that the Colombian government has failed to swiftly fill the vacuum left in remote regions where coca production has sky rocketed and illegal armed groups are now battling for control. Two-thirds of the human rights defenders killed were assassinated by people affiliated with criminal organisations, and most worked in rural areas where the state has traditionally had little presence.

The government of Colombia continues to maintain the position that the violence is sporadic rather than systematic and denies that the violence is linked to paramilitary activity. However, according to U.N. representative Todd Howland “There is a pattern here relative to where the killings are occurring… . It is a really important moment to consolidate the implementation of the accords”.

What the media reports have not highlighted is that, as noted in the report, the Attorney General’s office has itself compiled a list of 766 human rights defenders killed since 1994. “OHCHR takes note of the progress achieved by the Attorney General in the context of dialogue between the Government and civil society known as the National Roundtable on Guarantees, in identifying cases of killings of human rights defenders since 1994. Of the 766 cases identified to date, the Office of the Attorney General must still locate 193 cases in its registry following changes in its information management systems since 2004″.

This startling statistic underlines the consistent failure of Colombian governments to take effective action to protect HRDs. The Peace Accords present the government with a historic opportunity to address this issue. The credibility of the government’s commitment to the peace process will depend on what action it takes.

Front Line Defenders believes however that even this figure is a significant underestimate.



Philippines: Inaction makes government complicit in political killings

Originally published by
The online news portal of TV5

Andrew Anderson is executive director of Ireland-based Front Line Defenders, which works on the security and protection of human rights defenders at risk around the world. The group notes that ‘while many people are focusing on killings in the context of the crackdown on the drug trade, no one is really focusing on the pattern of attacks on human rights defenders.’ Last year, Front Line Defenders recorded 281 killings of human rights defenders worldwide, 31 of these in the Philippines, making it ‘the most dangerous country in the world in which to be a HRD, outside of the Americas.’

On Thursday, 2 March, Jimboy Tapdasan Pesadilla was contacted by a neighbor to go to his parents’ house urgently. When he got to the house, he found several neighbors outside the house and a team of police inside, taking pictures. His father and mother had both been shot dead. Read More >

Philippines: Legal system under attack as 7th lawyer shot dead

On 15 February, environmental rights lawyer, Manuelita Cumba Mascariñas-Green was shot and killed by unidentified gunmen while she was driving her three young children home in the capital city of Tagbilaran, Bohol. Two men on motorcycles blocked her car and shot her dead. The manner of the killing is consistent with the pattern of killings of other lawyers and political activists in recent years and shows it was a planned attack.

Yeb Saño, Executive Director of Greenpeace Southeast Asia, said in a statement, “Those who cause environmental destruction are resorting to savage measures and deplorable acts to stop communities and people who are standing up to protect our imperilled environment and the very ecosystems that support  the lives and livelihoods of our people”. Read More >

Philippines: Peasant leader gunned down in Quezon by suspected army member

On 25 February, Gilbert Bancat, 32, a coconut farmer and peasant leader in Quezon, was gunned down in Brgy. Camflora, by an unidentified assailant, thought to be a member of the private army of a landlord in the area. The killer is also thought to be a member of the Philippine Army.

The assailants stood five meters from the victim and shot him twice. An elderly bystander, another coconut farmer, Angel Carabot, was also hit. Both were taken to Lucena Hospital, where Bancat was later declared dead. Carabot is still in a critical condition.

Gilbert Bancat was a peasant organiser of the Anakpawis (Toiling Masses) Partylist and had taken part in numerous dialogues with the local landowner in an attempt to negotiate a fair share of the land for local farmers who, because they have no title to the land, are unable to get a fair share of the coconut harvest.

Gilbert had been warned that he should stop supporting the farmers because his name was on an army hit list. Prior to the killing there had been reports of unknown men around the hacienda asking for Bancat’s whereabouts. On 23 and 24 February two unknown men on a motorcycle were seen driving around Bancat’s house. The next day he was shot dead.

Brgy. Camflora is situated within the 385-hectare Hacienda Uy in San Andrés town, Quezon province. Tenant farmers plant coconut trees, bananas, root crops, corn and other vegetables. At least 300 families are affected by the landowner’s attempts to circumvent the agrarian reform programme’s reallocation of at least 350 hectares of land in the Hacienda. At least 82 farmers have been tilling this land for more than six years; one of them has been farming in the area since 1954. Yet, for years, they have been unable to obtain an equitable share in the proceeds of the coconut harvest, as they remain landless because of the landowner’s refusal to include the land in the agrarian reform programme.


Pakistan: Prominent human rights lawyer shot dead in Shabqadar


On Saturday 04 March unidentified gunmen shot a prominent human rights lawyer dead in what appears to have been a targeted killing, in Shabqadar, near the Afghanistan border.

The gunmen who were travelling on a motor cycle drew up alongside the car and shot Muhammed Jan Gigyani as he was driving through the city. He was critically wounded and died en route to hospital. Gigyani was a prominent human rights lawyer affiliated with the secular Qaumi Watan Party (QWP). He was a senior member of the Charsadda Bar Association and had previously served as the Shabqadar Bar Association president.

Muhammed Jan Gigyani was also affiliated with several small political parties at local level and always spoke out against terrorism and injustice. According to local community leaders “he was a staunch supporter of democracy, human liberty, education and peace”. He had twice stood unsuccessfully as a candidate in the general elections for the Provincial Assembly.

Jamaat-ul-Ahrar (JuA), the banned militant group responsible for many of the recent militant attacks in Pakistan, claimed responsibility for the killing.

Shabqadar, where the lawyer was gunned down, is located near Mohmand Agency and falls in Charsadda district, where suicide bombers killed at least seven people near a court complex on 21 February  in an attack claimed by JuA.

On 15 February, the group also carried out a suicide attack on the headquarters of the Mohmand Agency’s political administration, killing three law enforcement personnel and two civilians.

The most devastating suicide attack carried out by the group was on 13 February at Charing Cross on Lahore’s busy Mall Road. The bombing, which targeted police officials present at a protest, left 13 dead and 85 injured. Pakistani officials say JuA has been planning attacks and operating from Afghanistan.