Karapatan: Independent and impartial probe on Zara Alvarez’ killing should investigate State forces

As slain human rights and health worker Zara Alvarez is laid to rest today, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted that “any independent investigation on her cold-blooded murder should first look into State forces and their complicity and involvement — precisely because of the pattern of threats and vilification she and other slain human rights workers had been subjected to from the police and the military.”

“Today, we bury and honor Zara, a fierce and determined human rights defender, with strong indignation. As we grieve the loss of one of our colleagues, we do not relent in our calls for justice and an independent and impartial probe on her killing. Over the years, Zara had been at the receiving end of harassment from State forces — from trumped-up charges and imprisonment to death threats and even judicial terror-tagging — and there could be no other culprits behind this brutal and cowardly act than the fascist butchers of the State,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

The Karapatan officer continued that “impartial investigations should abide by principles of due diligence, full transparency, and uncompromising commitment to the delivery of justice and accountability. It should be conducted by credible institutions and personalities, with known track records of support for victims of human rights violations. It should ensure the participation and confidence of relatives of victims and human rights defenders. It should provide regular public reports on the status of the investigation. Most importantly, it should remain independent from the influence of agencies or individuals who are seen as beneficiaries of such dastardly crimes.”

In their statement, the Germany-based Aktionsbündnis Menschenrechte – Philippinen (AMP)  detailed that Alvarez “had been receiving death threats for years” for her human rights work which “started during the term of office of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and finally led to a trumped-up charge against her and to her illegitimate detention in October 2012” and her imprisonment for almost two years until she was released on bail in July 2014. She was acquitted for lack of evidence only in March 2020, eight years after first being charged.

The United Kingdom-based Campaign for Human Rights in the Philippines also stated that “Alvarez was among the more than 600 people that the Department of Justice wanted to declare as ‘terrorists’ in a case filed in February 2018” and while her name was eventually removed from the list, “the signal had already been sent to the death squads.”

The AMP reiterated that “the Philippine Government, under the guise of counterterrorism, brutally cracks down on human rights defenders and other civil society players, with Alvarez as “one of many victims of the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines.”

“It is no secret to anyone — even to the international human rights community with whom Zara worked with — that State forces have long wanted her dead, and that her senseless killing could only be their handiwork as part of a systematic and worsening crackdown on human rights defenders in the country, especially those who are part of Karapatan, who have long been a target of red-tagging, harassment, and vilification from State forces. Any independent investigation on her murder must first probe State forces such as the police and the military. Only through an independent and impartial probe can we bring the perpetrators to justice,” Palabay ended.