A local organization that is the subject of incessant red-tagging and slander by the military and the Rodrigo Duterte government is awarded a prestigious international award “in recognition of its commitment to human rights in the Philippines.”
The Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights is this year’s recipient of the annual William D. Zabel Human Rights Award given by United States-based group Human Rights First.
The awarding ceremony was held online and featured a performance by Annie Lenox and other internationally-acclaimed artists.
“The award has been presented annually for more than three decades and acknowledges the work of courageous activists on the front lines of the struggle for freedom and human rights,” Human Rights First president and CEO Michael Breen said in a statement.
“Human Rights First has tremendous respect and admiration for Karapatan and the work done by (secretary general) Tinay Palabay. They are human rights defenders whom the government of Philippines regularly targets, and we hope this award, and our ongoing partnership, helps shine a bright light on their efforts and shields them from additional threats,” Breen added.
Human Rights First noted Karapatan’s documentation of human rights violations through fact-finding missions, active filings of cases through Philippine courts and quasi-judicial bodies like the Commission on Human Rights, the United Nations, and other international human rights bodies.
“It also refers victims to medical professionals and groups for psycho-social and additional assistance; and organizes victims of human rights violations and their families,” Human Rights First said.
The group also noted that no less than 15 human rights workers of Karapatan have been killed in the past five years, nearly 70 since 2001, and many more are imprisoned or are facing judicial harassment and threats because of their work in defending human rights.
“This recognition is an homage to their memory and legacy of selflessness, compassion and service to the poor and oppressed and we continue to honor them every day as we do the best that we can in advocacy, documentation, direct services and movement-building in the Philippines,” Human Rights First said.
The William D. Zabel Human Rights Award is presented each year to leaders and organizations for their work in advancing rights, justice and equality for those suffering persecution and violations of their human rights.
The award is named after the renowned human rights defender who first became famous for his successful campaign against bans on interracial marriage in the United States.
Zabel Award recipients include ALQST for Human Rights, which monitors and documents human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia; Miroslava Cerpas Hernández, who promotes the rights of migrants and refugees displaced by violence in Honduras; Friar Tomás González, who protects vulnerable migrants on the Mexican border; Yazidi human rights activists Khaleel Aldakhi and Ameena Saeed Hasan; European antisemitism activists Jane Braden-Golay, Siavosh Derakhti, and Niddal El-Jabri; Dr. Denis Mukwege of the Democratic Republic of Congo, who later went on to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize; and human rights lawyer Chen Guangcheng of China.
Human Rights First is a non-profit, nonpartisan international human rights organization based in New York, Washington D.C., Houston, and Los Angeles.
Dedicated to martyred rights defenders
In a statement, Palabay said Karapatan is grateful for the recognition of their work in defending and advancing people’s rights.
Palabay said the award is a homage and tribute to the memory of their fallen comrades and their legacy of selflessness, compassion and service to the poor and oppressed.
“We cry out for justice over the killings of our fellow human rights workers under the Duterte administration: Zara Alvarez, Elisa Badayos, Bernardino Patigas Sr., Mariam Uy Acob, Ryan Hubilla, Nelly Bagasala, Billamin Hassan, Joseph Baning, Atty. Benjamin Ramos, Randy Malayao, Arnie Espenilla, Lizando Alcovendas, Pizo Cabug, and Aldren Enriquez. We likewise recall our colleagues Bishop Alberto Ramento, Eden Marcellana, Benjaline Hernandez, Fr. William Tadena, Rev. Edison Lapuz, Atty. Juvy Magsino, Prof. Jose Maria Cui, Fernando Baldomero, Romeo Capalla, William Bugatti and many others who were killed during the past administrations — whose killings have remained unresolved to this day,” Palabay said.
Many other Karapatan workers are being persecuted for their work, Palabay said, including their chairperson Elisa Tita Lubi, regional leaders Jayvee Apiag and Daisy “Jackie” Valencia and workers Teresita Naul, Alexander Philip Abinguna, Renalyn Tejero and Nimfa Lanzanas who are in jail due to “similar fabricated cases.”
She added that the Zabel award is dedicated to Karapatan chairperson emirita Marie Hilao-Enriquez, and the late former Samahan ng Ex-Detainees Laban sa Detensyon at Aresto (SELDA) chairperson, Philippine Navy Captain Danilo Vizmanos.
Duterte, charged with crimes against humanity for thousands of reported extrajudicial killings related to his government’s centerpiece drug war, had singled out Karapatan and called it an “organization of demons” in one of his notorious rants against critics.
Palabay said the Zabel Award is a strong statement of solidarity and an affirmation that human rights work is a just and essential endeavor in the midst of tyranny and oppression.
“Let this be a strong rebuke to the murderous ways of this administration and a clarion call for justice,” Palabay said.
“This award also comes at a crucial time, against the backdrop of a rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis and alarming democratic backsliding in the Philippines, and this award is a recognition of the tremendous challenges we currently face amid worsening attacks on human rights defenders, police brutality, militarization, and the narrowing of civic and democratic spaces in the country,” Palabay said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)