UN condemns Echanis and Alvarez killings; Randall tortured, stabbed to death

The United Nations (UN) human rights office condemned the torture and assassination of National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) peace consultant Randall Echanis and the murder of veteran rights defender Zara Alvarez.

In a statement Friday, August 21, spokesperson for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Liz Throssell in Geneva said they are “saddened and appalled by the ongoing violence and threats” against human rights defenders in the Philippines.

While welcoming the statement from Malacanan Palace denouncing “any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists,” Throssell noted that both Echanis and Alvarez had been repeatedly “red-tagged” – labelled as communists or terrorists – in relation to their work.

“We have raised our concerns with the Government and the Commission on Human Rights on these cases, and look forward to continuing to engage with them,” Throssell said, calling on the Rodrigo Duterte administration to ensure that relevant agencies cooperate fully with investigations by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of the Philippines.

The UN OHCHR’s statement came after an autopsy report was released indicating that Echanis was heavily and lengthily tortured before being killed last October 10 in his rented apartment in Novaliches, Quezon City.

‘Politically motivated’

In an online press conference yesterday, University of the Philippines College of Medicine forensic pathologist Dr. Racquel Fortun announced the preliminary results of the autopsy conducted on Echanis’ remains.

Fortun said that Echanis died of stab wounds on his aorta, heart and esophagus.

The stab wounds delivered on the victim’s back produced a huge hematoma or collection of blood in the chest which was not survivable, according to Fortun. 

“Echanis also sustained blunt force trauma in some portions of his head. He had lacerations and contusions on his face. He had sharp injuries on his trunk which were mostly on the back part of his body,” Anakpawis, of which Echanis was chairperson at the time of his murder, said in a statement.

“He also sustained sharp force trauma or stab wounds possibly made by a long-bladed weapon. He also had pointed puncture wounds,” the farmers’ group added.

Fortun said that the big injury on Echanis’ left lower back near the seventh rib had a foreign object — a sharp metal forcefully impaled on his back that penetrated and struck his aorta, the main artery of the heart that carries blood to the rest of the body.

The said injury to the aorta caused Echanis’ death, she added.

Fortun explained it was likely that three kinds of weapons were used to torture and kill Echanis, including an icepick-like weapon and a knife, also indicating there may have been more than one killer.

Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) chairperson Danilo Ramos said Echanis death was brutal and heinous.

“His death was not just a case of robbery-gone-wrong nor was Ka Randy (Echanis) just a collateral damage as claimed by the (Philippine National Police). Ka Randy was a target. His killing was planned and premeditated. He also suffered torture in the hands of his killers,” Ramos said.

Echanis was also KMP deputy secretary for external affairs at the time of his death.

Ramos added that given Echanis’ long record of activism and stature as a peasant advocate and peace consultant, only state forces and mercenaries have the motives and means to kill him.

Red-tagging victims

Like Echanis, Alvarez was also a veteran activist and rights defender and was included in the list of 649 the Duterte government sought to designate as terrorists last March 28.

“While the list was later truncated, many who were removed from the list, including Alvarez, continued to report harassment and threats, as highlighted in the High Commissioner’s human rights report on the Philippines published in June this year,” Throssell’s statement said.

Throssell reported that Alvarez’s photo also appeared in a publicly displayed poster purporting to depict terrorists that is cited in High Commissioner Michelle Bachellet’s report at the UN Human Rights Commission’s 44th General Session in Geneva.

She noted that Alvarez was pictured alongside two other Negros Island human rights defenders who had been killed – Benjamin Ramos Jr. and Bernardino Patigas – both of whose murder cases remain unsolved.

Alvarez had also spent two years in prison on murder charges before she was acquitted in March this year for lack of evidence.

Throssell added that after Alvarez was killed, her colleague Clarizza Singson received a death threat on Facebook warning her that she would be next.

“This is particularly worrying as Singson’s name also appeared on the abovementioned list of suspected terrorists and her photo is included in the same poster,” Throssell said.

Thorough investigation

The UN Human Rights Office stressed the need for “independent, thorough and transparent investigations” into the killings.

Aside from making those responsible to be held to account, the international agency also demanded effective measures to protect other at-risk human rights defenders and to halt and condemn incitement to hatred against them.”

The KMP also demanded “a thorough, credible, and independent investigation” on Echanis’ killing.  

The KMP echoed UN’s call, demanding the entire truth must come out in the investigations. 

“The CHR, aided by experts, can conduct the investigation. We do not trust the PNP to conduct the investigation. Their handling of the crime scene and crucial pieces of evidence is weak,” Ramos said.

The PNP even attempted to dispute the identity of Echanis, and downplay the incident as a common crime and not politically-motivated,” Ramos added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)