Philippines: Women Human Rights Defenders Killed in Massacre
Tuesday, December 1, 2009 9:55 AM

1 December 2009

Human rights lawyers Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo were among 57 people murdered by gunmen in the Maguindanao Province of the Philippines on 23 November 2009. Twenty four of the victims were women including both Brizuela and Oquendo who worked for the Union of People's Lawyers in Mindanao. The massacre is the latest in a series of violent acts targeting women human rights defenders. 

According to the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development, women human rights defenders are frequently the victims of gender-based discrimination, prejudice, public repudiation, threats of and actual violence against them. In holding governments accountable, women human rights defenders often face arrest, detention or death. 

The group including Brizuela and Oquendo was abducted, tortured, and killed while traveling to file election papers for gubernatorial candidate Ismael Mangudadatu’s candidacy in the 2010 election. Police suspect the attack was led by Andal Amputuan, the son of Maguindanao’s current governor. Amputuan’s involvement would suggest government complicity in the attacks.

In 2007, the United Nations Special Rapporteur for Extra-Judicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions recommended that the Philippine government investigate and prosecute more than 800 extra-judicial killings that occurred in the country since 2001. The government’s failure to prosecute these crimes in accordance with the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations constitutes a violation of both international and domestic law because the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights requires states to protect the right to life, and because international law is binding on the Philippines.

Several human rights watch groups, including Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Asian Legal Resource Centre, are calling on the Philippine government to respond to the 23 November massacre by following the UN Principles on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (UN Investigation Principles) and the Model Protocol for a Legal Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (Minnesota Protocol).  The UN Investigation Principles and Minnesota Protocol require states to investigate whether deaths are the result of illegal violence.  If illegal violence is found to be the cause of death, the state must prosecute and punish perpetrators in addition to providing access to civil remedies.

Compiled from: Lawyers Rights Watch Canada and Asian Legal Resource Centre, "Philippines: Human Rights Groups Denounce Massacre of Lawyers Concepcion Brizuela and Cynthia Oquendo and 55 Others on November 23, 2009 in Maguindanao Province," (26 November 2009); Asia-Pacific Forum on Women, Law, and DevelopmentClaiming Rights, Claiming Justice: A Guidebook on Women Human Rights Defenders, (2007).