On 17 August 2020, in the central Philippine island of Negros, unidentified gunmen fatally shot Zara Alvarez, a legal worker for the human rights group Karapatan. Alvarez, 39, is the thirteenth human rights defender to be killed in the Philippines in the past four years. A week earlier, unidentified assailants killed peasant leader Randall Echanis, 72, inside his home in Quezon City in Metro Manila.
On 28 September 2020, Belgian Member of the European Parliament Maria Arena of the Group of the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats in the European Parliament posed a parliamentary question to the Vice-President of the Commission and High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security (VP/HR) Policy Josep Borrell.
MEP Arena, who is chair of the Subcommittee on Human Rights in the European Parliament, requested know “what action will the VP/HR take to urge the Government of the Philippines to launch a thorough investigation and prosecute those responsible for the attack and the murder?” and “what steps will he take to protect human rights activists and ensure respect for human rights in the Philippines?”
Finally, MEP Arena asked, the VP/HR consider recommending the suspension of the Philippines’ GSP+ (Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus) status if no more concrete efforts to protect human rights activists are made?”
Similar questions to those raised by MEP Arena, particularly regarding extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, have also been raised on Pakistan, another recipient of trade preference GSP+.
On 05 November, HP/VP Borrell formally responded on behalf of the European Commission. In his answer, he stated that “the Commission shares the Honourable Member’s concerns about the human rights situation in the Philippines, including the protection of those courageous individuals, such as Zara Alvarez and Randall Echanis, who speak up on behalf of vulnerable groups”.
HP/VP Borrell underlined that “the EU expressed these concerns during the first EU-Philippines Joint Committee held in January 2020, which also established a Sub-Committee on Rule of Law and Human Rights where the issue will be raised again”.
He explained that “the EU has also spoken up in multilateral fora such as the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC44) on the report on the Philippines (30 June 2020) and the resolution on human rights in the country (8 October 2020)” and that “the EU encouraged the authorities to investigate reports of harassment and killings of human rights defenders and lawyers, journalists and other media workers, as well as religious and indigenous leaders”.
HP/VP Borrell clarified that “the EU has a history of raising these principles in bilateral and multilateral fora and will continue to do so”. He also highlighted that “regarding the Special Incentive Arrangement for Sustainable Development and Good Governance (GSP+), the Philippines authorities committed to engage in a systematic dialogue with the EU on 27 international conventions” and that “while the EU does not exclude a possible withdrawal of preferences in the future, the current priority is an open dialogue and improvements concerning the human rights”.
In closing, HP/VP Borrell declared that “the EU will continue engaging with the Government to monitor the effective implementation of the GSP+ conventions and report to the European Parliament as done most recently in February 2020”.
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