Karapatan welcomes UNESCO reclassification of Ampatuan massacre case

Human rights watchdog Karapatan welcomed on Tuesday the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization’s (UNESCO) decision to reclassify the Ampatuan massacre as “ongoing/unresolved” following the letter sent by the families of the massacre’s victims, media groups, and various human rights organizations and advocates to UNESCO Director General Audrey Azoulay last September 12 appealing the classification of the case as “resolved” in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists.

Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay, who is among the signatories in the letter, stated that reclassifying the case as unresolved “is not only right but urgent. The conviction of the perpetrators of the massacre last December 19, 2019 is due to the unwavering campaign for justice of the families of the victims, journalists and rights advocates on this gruesome crime, but it is far from resolved: the Ampatuans have appealed their conviction, nearly 80 suspects remain at large, and attacks on journalists and press freedom in the Philippines continue — and are worsening — under the Duterte administration, contrary to the government’s own claims.”

According to a press release from the Presidential Task Force on Media Security, former UNESCO Assistant Director General Moez Chackchouk wrote to Ambassador Theresa Lazaro, Philippine Permanent Delegate to UNESCO that the Ampatuan massacre case would be classified as resolved “both in the UNESCO Observatory of Killed Journalists and in the 2020 Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists.” UNESCO Deputy Director General Xing Qu responded to the appeal letter last September 24 and reaffirmed that the case would be maintained as “ongoing/unresolved.”

Palabay stated that “amid the growing international criticism of the Duterte administration’s human rights violations and blatant assault on press freedom, they are now attempting to use the convictions in the Ampatuan case to allay calls for an independent and impartial international investigative mechanism into the human rights situation in the Philippines. This regime’s spin doctors have already paraded the case as supposed ‘proof’ that domestic mechanisms to seek accountability on attacks on journalists and on human rights violations in general are working — this despite all evidence strongly suggesting that impunity continues.”

In a joint oral statement delivered by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) before the 45th session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) last Friday, September 25, 35 local and international civil society organizations including Karapatan urged the UNHRC to “respond credibly” to the findings and recommendation” of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights report by launching an independent international investigation — citing in particular developments that “indicate further deterioration” such as the conviction of journalist Maria Ressa and shutdown of media network ABS-CBN, the murder of activists and a journalist, and the lack of transparency and credibility of so-called domestic mechanisms such as the Philippine government’s announced Inter-Agency Panel. 

“Independent investigations are very much needed to look into the rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines. These so-called domestic mechanisms are, in fact, failing to bring justice to victims and hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable — with none other the highest officials of the country denying these violations while blatantly encouraging these violations. The case of the Ampatuan massacre will never be fully solved unless all perpetrators of this brutal and gruesome crime are convicted, and unless all attacks on journalists, activists, and human rights defenders end,” the Karapatan officer ended.