At around 8pm on 17 August, 2020, Zara Alvarez was shot dead by unknown individuals as she walked along Santa Maria Street in Eroreco in Barangay Mandalagan, Bacolod City in the Philippines.
Zara Alvarez was a well-known human rights defender who had received repeated threats and been the target of regular harassment as a result of her human rights work. She worked as a paralegal for Karapatan in Negros Occidental Province and as a Research and Advocacy Officer of the Negros Island Health Integrated Program (NIHIP).
According to Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay : “Zara has long been a target of military, police, and judicial harassment for her tireless and dedicated work in defending people’s rights. She had already been imprisoned for nearly two years for a now-dismissed murder charge from the military — and all of the threats that she had received were from state security forces. All fingers point to them as the perpetrators of this senseless, cold-blooded killing, which is unsurprising for a fascist regime that is strongly averse to the idea of upholding and defending human rights, and is actively and proudly engaged in violating human rights.”
The killing of Zara Alvarez follows a pattern of violence against and “red-tagging” of human rights defenders in the country, by which authorities of the Duterte administration label them “communists”, a label which carries lethal consequences including extrajudicial killings. Just one week before Zara’s death, fellow human rights defender Randall “Randy” Echanis was murdered in his home in Quezon City. Both activists had been among the at least 600 people the Philippine Department of Justice had asked a court to declare as ‘terrorists’ in 2018, although both their names were subsequently removed from the list.
Despite this the threats against her continued.
Minutes after the killing of Zara Alvarez fellow human rights defender Clarizza Singson received a message on her Facebook page – ¨Don’t worry – You’re next¨.