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Human rights defender killed in Philippines; demands for justice grow

Human rights defender killed in Philippines; demands for justice grow

Photo: Mark Beach/WCC, 2012.

20 August 2020

Church leaders and human rights advocates are amplifying calls for justice after the death of Zara Alvarez, a health worker and human rights defender in the Philippines. Alvarez, who was killed on 17 August, worked closely with churches in a common quest for human dignity and rights.

A former political prisoner, Alvarez documented many stories of the violation of the rights of farmers and sugarcane workers.

The National Council of Churches in the Philippines joined numerous partners in condemning Alvarez’s murder.

“We feel righteous indignation over her untimely death. We pray that God’s comfort be with her bereaved family at this time of mourning,” said Bishop Reuel Norman O. Marigza, National Council of Churches in the Philippines general secretary. “We call on the president to stop these killings. Justice must be served for Zara Alvarez and other human rights defenders who were killed under this present dispensation.”

Members of a 2019 World Council of Churches (WCC) Pilgrim Team Visit to the Philippines, for whom Alvarez was one of the hosts, expressed their profound sadness and condemned the violence that led to her death.

For Rev. Janet McKeithen of the United Methodist Church, Alvarez’s death was a source of deeply personal outrage. “She's not the only one! For the love of God, this has to stop! The people of the Philippines are in constant danger and being murdered by their own government with absolutely no recourse!”

Rev. Christopher Rajkumar of Oikotree Global expressed his shock over the killing. He said: “Even in the midst of red-tagging and death threats Zara stood and spoke for the struggling communities of farmers, sugarcane workers and the politically and economically vulnerable sections of people in her province. She passionately campaigned for justice for the victims of extrajudicial killings. But today the world demands justice for her death.”

Joy Prim, a United Methodist Church deaconess, lamented: “We are all part of the family of Christ and as Christians we cannot quietly sit by anymore. As we condemn this most recent killing, we continue to echo and raise calls for justice that we learned from Zara. We will continue in our work alongside our partners in the Philippines to ensure that the killings, harassment, and human rights violations are in the international news.”

“The killing of Zara Alvarez is emblematic of the human rights crisis in the Philippines,” said WCC director for International Affairs Peter Prove. “Especially for those of us who knew and admired her, her killing only increases our determination to ensure that the attention of the international community becomes more sharply focused on this crisis, until justice prevails, and the human rights of the poor and the marginalized are secured.”

Advocates are calling on the Philippine government to comply fully with the recommendations of the UN Human Rights Council and UN human rights experts, in particular to open the country to independent and impartial investigators, and to respect, protect and fulfil the human rights of all people in the Philippines.

WCC member churches in the Philippines