Commission on Human Rights to probe displacement of Manobos

Published by rudy Date posted on August 30, 2009

MANILA, Philippines – Commission on Human Rights (CHR) head Leila de Lima will personally lead an investigative mission this weekend in Surigao del Sur, where 1,700 people, mostly Manobos, have reportedly been displaced by the raging armed conflict between government forces and communist rebels.

De Lima said they will look into the situation of the internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the province in response to the provincial government’s request for the CHR’s intervention on the “urgent matter.”

Leaders and representatives of affected communities as well as non-government groups have similarly appealed for the CHR’s intercession.

Based on initial investigation carried out by the CHR’s Caraga office, the villagers were forced to leave their homes for fear of being caught in the crossfire.

The Army’s 58th and 401st Infantry Battalions and the New People’s Army (NPA) are engaged in skirmishes in Surigao del Sur.

The CHR regional office also reported that many of the evacuees are crammed into a small space in the Diocesan Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Tandag and are subjected to living conditions that violate their human rights.

De Lima also noted receiving “disturbing claims” that members of the military allegedly compelled civilians to join civilian auxiliary units engaged in combat with the rebels in Lianga town.

While in some cases, De Lima said, the tribal folk are being labeled as NPA rebels or supporters and sympathizers.

She said they also received reports that the military has imposed a food blockade in the affected communities.

On the other hand, De Lima said villagers displaced in Carrascal town have complained of harassment by NPA rebels.

“These allegations are serious and require further investigation because they run contrary to the United Nations Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement (UNGPID) and violate human rights as well as international humanitarian law,” she said.

According to De Lima, the UNGPID particularly enjoins authorities to provide displaced people with basic necessities and ensure that they can safely access these supplies.

Morover, she said the UNGPID vests upon national authorities the primary duty and responsibility to provide humanitarian assistance to IDPs.

“The alarming ordeal of the Manobo evacuees in Surigao emphasizes the need to limit the adverse effect of the armed conflict in Mindanao on civilians, particularly (the indigenous people),” she said.

“While there is a need to put an end to insurgency, this must not be done at the expense of those who are merely caught in between,” she added.  -–Katherine Adraneda (The Philippine Star) with Ben Serrano

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