Philippines. Conversation with Victoria Tauly Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous People

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz is an indigenous leader of the Kankanaey Igorot people from Cordillera in the Philippines and she is UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples since 2014. Recently the Government of Philippines accused her and hundreds of other individuals active in the defense of Human Rights of terrorism. The legal petition filed by the Philippines Government alleges those people listed should be declared as terrorists. Many NGO and UN agencies, like UN Environment and High Commissioner for Human Rights answered to these allegations against the UN special rapporteur asking for these charges be dropped immediately, and support provided for the legitimate activities of these individuals who have UN mandates, and the civil society organisations with which they work. We met Mrs Victoria Tauli-Corpus to understand what is going on.

-As UN Special Rapporteur for Indigenous people in what is your work focused on?

“My work is focused on examining the situations of indigenous people in the countries where they are and where human rights are violated or not protected. During my country’s visit when a Government invites me to visit them I do a report about the situation of indigenous people in those countries. I also receive communications from everybody would like to tell me about allegedly human rights violations of indigenous people and I write to the Governments that they are concern. I also make thematic reports about specific issues addressing indigenous people and all these reports I present to the Human Rights Council of the United Nations, at  UN General Assembly. My main task is to monitor and report on the situations of indigenous people”.

-What is the situation of indigenous people major groups in the Philippines today?

“The situation of indigenous people in the Philippines is continuing to see human rights violations against them, indigenous people in the South, in Indianapolis instead, are been experiencing forced displacement from military and paramilitary groups and some of them have been killed. In Cordillera the indigenous leader was also killed recently, the perpetrators are never arrested and nobody is going to justice them. Another problem is that the indigenous people also find their territories subjected to exploitation by many corporations, constructor’s holding, agri-business expansions, by corporations and by State who don’t give free property for who concern. There are a lot of violations on political rights, as well, economic, social and cultural rights”.

-Mrs Victoria, you and hundreds of other individuals in the Philippines were alleged in a list that declare you as terrorist, why?

“In my particular case I look at it like a case of retaliation, because as UN Special Rapporteur, I have released press statements which were published by news papers criticizing the Government for the spread of extra judicial killings, displacement of indigenous people and the occupation of territories by  military and paramilitary men, I criticized also the expansion of Marshall law that mean now we will see more  violations of rights. After I made that, the Government released a statement saying that we are embarrassing the Philippines internationally. After that my name is found on the list and my case is really a retaliation to have criticised the Philippines Government. For others is the same, because many people in the list are activists to protect the indigenous territories, they are participating in demonstrations in our cities acts. They are human rights defenders and the Government have alleged them in the list to keep them quieted”.

– “These charges must be dropped immediately, and support provided for the legitimate activities of these individuals who have UN mandates, and the civil society organisations with which they work” said Erik Solheim, UN Environment’s head. What is the Government’s reaction, did you see any answer?

“After the statements of Erik Solheim, of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur Michel Forst, the Government said that I’m in the list not because I’m a rapporteur or in retaliation for what I have said, but because there is evidence that I’m a member of community of New People’s army. Though I totally denied that, they still coming out with this statement, but they will remove this list because are in danger the life of all people alleged on it. They still stand by the list, this is the reaction of the Government”.

-What would you like to ask to the European institutions? Would you like to do an appeal to our readers?

 During the Human Rights Council the European Union made a statement condemning the Philippines government and asking to remove my name from this list. I would like if more Government speak out even if they are EU members, will be good if they do their own statement criticizing the Philippines Government for what is doing and standing with human rights defenders to continuing what they are doing. This is my appeal: most statements from States and social organization to investigate the Philippines government for extra judicial killings but also for this kind of accusations”.