At the 31st Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Switzerland
March 7, 2016, Geneva, Switzerland – Human rights activists from Karapatan participating at the 31st United Nations Human Rights Council session submitted a complaint/letter of allegation to UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Internally Displaced Persons Dr. Chaloka Beyani on the recent deliberate and targetted burning of the evacuation camp of more than 700 Lumad indigenous people in Mindanao at the compound of the United Church of Christ in the Philippines (UCCP) in Davao City on February 24, 2016. The evacuees came mostly from communities in Davao del Norte and Bukidnon where military operations of the Armed Forces of the Philippines are conducted.
In July 2015, Dr. Beyani was in the Philippines for an official visit to investigate the human rights situation of internally displaced persons in typhoon Haiyan-affected communities, communities affected by mining activities of trans-national corporations, and those who forcibly evacuated from their communities because of military operations. Beyani also visited the UCCP Haran compound and had a dialogue with the tribal leaders.
In his exit statement, he said, “I was alarmed that tribal leaders reported that their communities were consistently being manipulated and divided and that they had been harassed and received threats when they expressed their opposition. Indeed, some leaders and members of the indigenous communities have been killed over the past years, reportedly due to their anti-mining activities.” In its vain attempt to divert the issue, the AFP Eastern Mindanao Command deliberately twisted Beyani’s statements to conform to the EastMinCom’s vile scheme to further harass the evacuees. Beyani, in response, called the AFP’s move as “gross misrepresentation” of his statement.
According to Karapatan’s complaint, at around 2:30 a.m. on February 24, 2016, evacuees woke up to the smell of gasoline poured on the canvas roofs of the evacuees’ tents at the evacuation center. Immediately after, the tents were set aflame when a lighted torch was thrown in. Five makeshift houses were already consumed by fire when it was put out. The dormitories of the UCCP compound, which was roughly 100 meters from the evacuation camp, were also burned.
Five persons were hurt during the incident, with three needing hospitalization, including two children. The children suffered burns when the canvas roofs melted and fell on the children’s feet. Some also had burns in their hands.
The more than 700 evacuees started to arrive at the UCCP- Haran, batches, starting February 2015. Most them are from Talaingod and Kapalong, Davao del Norte, while a number came from Kitaotao in Bukidnon province. The Lumad fled their communities when soldiers and military-backed ALAMARA militia forces occupied their communities and forcibly recruited them into the paramilitary group.
Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said the continuing harassment on the Lumad evacuees seeking refuge at the UCCP Haran, and the insistence of state agencies to force them back to their communities, show a lack of understanding of their plight and a lack of concern for their safety and welfare.
Palabay, together with Michelle Campos, daughter of slain Lumad leader Dionel Campos, and Karapatan Caraga coordinator Dr. Naty Castro, participated at the UN HRC session in Geneva, Switzerland this March 2016 to raise awareness on the killings and forcible evacuation in the Philippines, including that of indigenous rights defenders and their communities.
Institutions, organizations and individuals from Canada, the Netherlands, Rome, and Australia also condemned the deliberate burning of the Lumad evacuation center and wrote statements and appeals calling on Pres. Benigno Aquino to stop the harassment of Lumad evacuees and to stop military operations in civilian communities. The United Church of Canada, Netherlands Philippines Solidarity Committee, International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines Canada, Sisters of Our Lady of Sion Australia, Consiglio Metropolitano Partecipato Rome, and Palestina nel Cuore Committee of Rome are among the said organizations.
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KARAPATAN is an alliance of human rights organizations and programs, human rights desks and committees of people’s organizations, and individual advocates committed to the defense and promotion of people’s rights and civil liberties. It monitors and documents cases of human rights violations, assists and defends victims and conducts education, training and campaign.