Treaty urges govt to protect indigenous peoples

Published by rudy Date posted on August 22, 2009

Human Rights commissioner says fighting in Mindanao has caused concern among United Nations experts

A United Nations human rights treaty has urged the Philippines to protect indigenous peoples (IPs) from armed conflict, extrajudicial killings and discrimination, as the body examined the Philippines’ compliance with the international Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination(CERD) .

Human Rights Commissioner Cecilia Quisumbing said the current fighting in Mindanao and its effect on indigenous peoples and evacuees has attracted the concern of UN experts on racial discrimination.

“This brings another human rights dimension to the renewed combat in the South. Not only the rights to life, liberty, property and security of persons but also, the need to consciously and effectively protect minority groups,” Quisum­bing said in a statement.

Quisumbing said members of the Com­mittee also urged the Philippines to enact a general law that prohibits discri­mination based on race and ethnicity.

The CERD, which is made up of experts from 18 countries, reviewed the report submitted by the Philippine government in a two-day session (on August 18 to 19) at the headquarters of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Geneva, Quisumbing said.

Quisumbing said that among the issues the Committee on Elimination of Racial Discrimination wanted to discuss were proper respect for Ancestral Domain of IPs and to discuss the lack of a law that prohibits racial discrimination, delivery of basic services to minority groups, statistical measurement to track the rights situation of minorities, and extrajudicial killings of IP activists.

Quisumbing said, the Commission found “no State policy to deny basic services and protections to IPs but under the Convention, the State has the obligation to actively take measures to ensure that certain groups are able to fully enjoy their rights. These areas of promotion and protection of human rights of minorities is where the CHR feels there is a lot of room of improvement.”

The committee also wanted to know how the Philippines were addressing the issues of extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances.

In the CHR presentation, Quisum­bing reported that in the past year of offensives between the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Moro Islamic Liberation Front and Abu Sayyaf rebels, Human Rights regional offices have reported more than 200,000 people in Surigao del Sur and Lanao del Sur took refuge in evacuation centers, many of them from indigenous tribes.

The Commission’s regional office in the Cordillera Autonomous Region has recorded 17 cases of IP activists killed and one activist who has disappeared.

The committee experts called the IPRA “innovative” and urged the government to implement it more fully and to measure its effectiveness, particularly with statistics.

The Philippines ratified the Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination almost 42 years ago, in September 1967. It is obliged to implement all the provisions of the treaty, and to report to the said committee every two years. –Ira Karen Apanay, Senior Reporter, Manila Times

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