On 26 August 2020, Brussels., Member of the European Parliament (MEP) Maria Arena, Chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights (DROI) in the European Parliament issued a statement following the killing of Zara Alvarez, paralegal for the human rights alliance Karapatan in the Philippines. MEP Arena said “I have been greatly saddened and alarmed by the news of the killing of Ms. Zara Alvarez on Monday, 17 August 2020. She was reportedly fatally shot by unknown individuals along Santa Maria Street in Eroreco in Barangay Mandalagan, Bacolod City.”
Ms. Zara Alvarez was a well-known human rights defender who worked as a paralegal for Karapatan (the Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) in the Philippines. She received many threats and was subject to repeated harassment as a result of her human rights engagement.
The Belgium MEP added “I strongly condemn the killing of Ms. Zara Alvarez and wish to echo the call by the UN Human Rights Office for an independent, thorough, and transparent investigation into her murder in order to identify all those responsible, bring them to justice, and sanction them as provided by the law. I remain equally concerned about the ongoing killings and attacks against all those acting to protect and secure rights and freedoms, and promoting peace and sustainable development in the Philippines. I can only emphasise that the protection of human rights defenders, including their safety and psychological well-being, as well as their ability to carry out their activities without hindrance or fear of reprisals, constitutes an essential part of the duty of the state”.
Karapatan also issued a statement asserting that “any independent investigation on her [Zara Alvarez] cold-blooded murder should first look into State forces and their complicity and involvement — precisely because of the pattern of threats and vilification she and other slain human rights workers had been subjected to from the police and the military.”
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said “we bury and honor Zara, a fierce and determined human rights defender, with strong indignation. As we grieve the loss of one of our colleagues, we do not relent in our calls for justice and an independent and impartial probe on her killing. Over the years, Zara had been at the receiving end of harassment from State forces — from trumped-up charges and imprisonment to death threats and even judicial terror-tagging — and there could be no other culprits behind this brutal and cowardly act than the fascist butchers of the State. ” The Karapatan officer continued that “impartial investigations should abide by principles of due diligence, full transparency, and uncompromising commitment to the delivery of justice and accountability. It should be conducted by credible institutions and personalities, with known track records of support for victims of human rights violations. It should ensure the participation and confidence of relatives of victims and human rights defenders. It should provide regular public reports on the status of the investigation. Most importantly, it should remain independent from the influence of agencies or individuals who are seen as beneficiaries of such dastardly crimes.”
In their statement, the Germany-based Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte – Philippinen (AMP) detailed that Alvarez “had been receiving death threats for years” for her human rights work which “started during the term of office of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and finally led to a trumped-up charge against her and to her illegitimate detention in October 2012” and her imprisonment for almost two years until she was released on bail in July 2014. She was acquitted for lack of evidence only in March 2020, eight years after first being charged. The AMP reiterated that “the Philippine Government, under the guise of counterterrorism, brutally cracks down on human rights defenders and other civil society players, with Alvarez as “one of many victims of the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.”
The United Kingdom-based Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines also stated that “Alvarez was among the more than 600 people that the Department of Justice wanted to declare as ‘terrorists’ in a case filed in February 2018” and while her name was eventually removed from the list, “the signal had already been sent to the death squads.” The Philippines is a recipient of the European Union trade preference, the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus, GSP+ which is given to countries to support good governance and protect against human rights abuses. The Philippines, along with Pakistan, have repeatedly violated human rights conventions. In the wake of the murder of Zara Alvarez the European Commission could suspend the GSP+ trade preference for the Philippines, pending a thorough investigation into all human rights abuses in the country.
Photo Credit : https://samidoun.net/2020/08/justice-for-zara-alvarez-and-ka-randy-echanis-stopthekillingsph/