Article written by
Human Rights Matter
“Shackles, incarceration and inhumane treatment in detention did not in any way deter, rather it further strengthened my resolve to continue my advocacy for respect on the human rights of our oppressed people.” Zara Alvarez
In a country where the correctional and judicial system is flawed and the law enforcing officials enjoy impunity it is not difficult to attempt to silence human rights defenders like Zara Alvarez. Zara is a fearless, forthright woman human rights defender (HRD) who investigates, documents and has exposed many human rights violations in remote areas of the Philippines. Continuing this type of activities and human rights work in the Philippinse leads most often to arbitrary arrests and prolonged detentions if not worse. Solely because of their political beliefs and human rights work HRDs are targeted and arrested under trumped up charges.
Trumped up Charges
On the 30th of October 2012, Zara was arrested by joint forces of the Armed Forces of the Philippines and members of the Special Action Force. She remained incarcerated for 21 months under fabricated charges of murder and robbery in band. Her arrest came on a questionable warrant which did not contain the proper name nor address of Zara. She among other 42 individuals (many of which are also HRD’s) were accused of the murder of 1Lt. Archie Polenzo of the Philippine Army on March 10th 2010. While already 5 months imprisoned she was also charged of committing a robbery in band that took place on July 16, 2011.
During both alleged dates Zara was nowhere near the scene of crimes. Instead she was campaigning for the Makabayan Coalition on the neighboring Island of Panay when the supposed encounter that led to the murder of 1Lt. Archie Polenzo happened and was at home in Cadiz City with her father and daughter when the supposed robbery in band occurred.
Until she was released in July of this year on bail, she was subjected to intimidation, threat and harassment by members of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and left in inhumane jail conditions. These methods are meant to intimidate and paralyze her human rights work. She, like other human rights defenders are publicly branded as being part of the leftist communist’s New People’s Army. It is essential to recognize and protect the work of human rights defenders like Zara Alvarez because without them, human rights protection remains an ineffective, purely theoretical construct.
In light of the International Women Human Rights Day -a day that symbolizes and recognizes women human rights defenders,- Human Rights Matter emphasizes the importance of calling the Philippine authorities to conduct proper investigations into the rampant filing of fabricated charges against human rights defenders, to secure due process and to hold the true perpetrators accountable without delay.
It is essential that the government respond to the calls of civil society and human rights organizations and create space for civil society and HRDs. Thus States like the Philippines should comply with its obligation under international law and further adhere to the principles enshrined in the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, which states, “Everyone has the right individually or in association with others, to seek the protection and realization of human rights at the national and international levels.”
Zara Alvarez is a political and human rights defender (HRD) in Negros Occidental, Philippines. She has worked for the youth organization Anak Bayan, as Deputy Secretary General of the broad political coalition Bayan Negros, for the human rights organization Karapa-tan, as Education and Campaign officer, and as staff for the Negros and North Negros Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (NNAHRA). Alvarez is a single mother of a five-year-old child.
Murder: The court procee-dings remain at pre-trial level. In October 2013, Alvarez filed a Petition for Bail. On July 16, 2014 the Petition was finally heard and two days later it was granted. Alvarez was released on Bail on July 22, 2014. The next and second pre-trial hearing is scheduled for December 3, 2014.
Robbery in Band: The court proceedings remain at pre-trial level. A petition for the transfer of the case with the Supreme Court which was supposed to take place on September 2, 2014 was reset to a yet unknown date.