Thursday, November 13, 2008

Group seeks UN’s help vs gov’t human rights violations

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13 November 2008. In her speech during the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (UNCESCR) review in Geneva, Switzerland, Chairperson Leila de Lima of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) urged the Philippine government to impose a moratorium on demolitions and forced evictions until consultation and resettlement provisions are implemented.

CHR’s appeal was made during the 41st session of the UNCESCR on November 11-12 which reviewed government compliance with its economic and social obligations including providing adequate and accessible shelter to its constituents especially to the homeless.

De lima also asserted that the country’s housing law, Urban Development Housing Act (UDHA) of 1992 should be amended to extend its protection against summary evictions to people living along railroad tracks, rivers and other areas considered danger zones.

Judge Ariranga Pillay of Mauritius, a member of said UN body, noted the unusually high number of Filipino families forcibly evicted from their homes indicating that these incidents had not abated since the committee first raised this issue to the government back in 1995.

Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) director Severo Catura who was also in the review admitted that there were indeed incidences of violations of housing rights but he assured the UN committee that these were going to be addressed.

Catura also stated that the PHRC already partnered with the CHR in the effort to investigate and monitor housing rights violations particularly forced evictions.

Civil society groups in its alternative report to the committee during the review, estimated that 85,370 families or 505,355 individuals had been evicted since 1996 to 2008 mostly due to urban beautification and infrastructure projects such as the NorthRail and SouthRail projects.

“More than half of these evicted families were displaced during the term of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo and also mostly due to the clearing operations of the Metro Manila Development Authority (MMDA) led by chairperson Bayani Fernando,” the groups, led by the Urban Poor Associates (UPA), said.

The report on the implementation of the right to adequate housing was prepared by UPA, John J. Caroll Institute on Church and Social Issues, Sentro ng Alternatibong Lingap Panligal (Saligan) and the Foundation for the Development of the Urban Poor.

Aside from the housing rights group, several non-governmental organizations also made reports on the implementation of social and economic rights such as access to food, employment, water, education, and health services.

Based on the civil society report to the UNCESCR, Filipinos' enjoyment of economic and social rights was gravely compromised by certain government priorities, policies, and practices such as the Philippine Mining Act, automatic appropriations for debt servicing, corruption, and unclear population agenda.

Furthermore, issues of concern raised by the UNCESCR back in 1995 such as lack of judicial powers of the CHR, vulnerable situation of children, non-completion and weaknesses of the agrarian reform program, and privatization of health services are still part of present realities.

The civil society report backed by more than one hundred organizations was facilitated by the Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights), research arm of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates and the UPA.

Major contributors to the NGO report were the Saligan, Center for Migrant Advocacy, Homenet Southeast Asia, Philippine NGO Coalition for Food Sovereignty, Medical Action Group, Freedom from Debt Coalition, and Education Network – Philippines. -30-

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