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Worried for safety, says UN special rapporteur on Philippine ‘hit list’

BANGKOK (Thomson Reuters Foundation) — A United Nations special rapporteur who is one of more than 600 people the Philippine government wants declared as terrorists, said she feared for her own safety and that of other rights activists on the list.

The Philippine justice ministry last month filed a petition in a Manila court seeking the declaration of more than 600 alleged communist guerrillas as “terrorists,” according to the document seen by Reuters.

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, was listed as a member of the Maoist rebel group. She has denied the allegations.

“The charges are entirely baseless and malicious,” Tauli-Corpuz told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a telephone interview.

“The government sees this as an opportunity to pursue people they don’t like. I am worried for my safety and the safety of others on the list, including several rights activists.”

Local and international organizations have slammed the Philippine government’s action, with New York-based Human Rights Watch calling the petition “a virtual government hit list.”

Two other U.N. special rapporteurs expressed “grave concern” about Tauli-Corpuz being on the list, and said she was being punished by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for speaking out against some of his policies.

In December, Tauli-Corpuz said thousands of indigenous people had been forcibly displaced from their homes in Mindanao, in the south of the country, and asked authorities to end abuses against them that had escalated under military operations.

“The petition is really an attempt to quell criticism and opposition to the administration,” Tauli-Corpuz, said on Saturday.

“It’s to distract attention from the abuses,” the indigenous leader from the Kankanaey Igorot people of the Philippine Cordillera region, said.

The Philippines was the deadliest country in Asia last year for defenders of land and resources amidst a government crackdown on rural communities, according to advocacy group PAN Asia Pacific.

Killings and other forms of repression targeting farmers, indigenous people and activists “spiked dramatically,” it said.

“The Philippine government regularly and increasingly threatens and harasses indigenous peoples,” said Julie Koch, executive director at advocacy group International Work Group for Indigenous Affairs.

The petition “is taking it to a whole new level,” she said in a statement.

The Philippine foreign affairs secretary hit back at the U.N. human rights chief on Saturday for issuing “irresponsible and disrespectful” comments about the president.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told a news conference on Friday that Duterte’s attacks against U.N. human rights activists suggest he needs to see a psychiatrist.

“These attacks cannot go unanswered, the U.N. Human Rights Council must take a position,” Zeid said, after Duterte’s government sought to get a U.N. investigator, a former Philippine lawmaker and four former Catholic priests declared as “terrorists.”

“He needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric examination. This kind of comment is unacceptable, unacceptable,” Zeid said.