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Reaction to misleading news item on UNHCR report

opinion / Latest Opinion
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Reaction to misleading news item on UNHCR report

/ 12:10 AM October 23, 2015

This refers to the news article titled “UN agency: Arrest, try ‘lumad’ slay perpetrators” (Across the Nation, 10/10/15).

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Mindanao would like to point out that the article does not accurately describe the UNHCR report distributed to Protection Cluster members in Mindanao. Information from the report was changed such that it gave the impression that the UNHCR made conclusions about the terrible incidents in indigenous communities. This would only be possible after a fair and transparent judicial process, which in this case has not taken place.

The article states: “[T]he United Nations Agency has called for the immediate arrest and trial of members of the armed groups, including government-backed militias, responsible for a series of killings of ‘lumad’ leaders and attacks on lumad communities in Mindanao.” The UNHCR report states: “Respect for the rule of law should be upheld by ensuring that the perpetrators of these killings causing displacement will be apprehended and prosecuted according to the law of the Philippines so persons can return to their communities without fear of future attack and feel protected by the government.” There is no direct mention in the UNHCR report about arresting “government-backed militias,” only support for the rule of law by arresting the perpetrators.

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The article also misrepresents the UNHCR report, stating that UNHCR field investigations yielded information that the attacks were perpetrated by government-backed militias. This is a misleading statement. The UNHCR only reported information (a) “recounted by witnesses” who were displaced from the incidents and (b) from “interviews” with displaced persons. The news item likewise infers that the UNHCR came to a conclusion that what the people said is factually true. Throughout the report we refer to allegations made, not statements of facts.

The news article further states: “According to the UNHCR, one thing is common in attacks on lumad communities in the provinces of Bukidnon, Surigao and Davao del Norte—government-backed militias are behind them.” Omitted were the words “paramilitary groups are known or perceived to be supported by the military…” in our report.

Finally, the last paragraph states that “The UNHCR said there has been little or no effort from the government to protect communities”—a made-up statement. The UNHCR stated in its report: “[T]hese communities have not benefited from State protection.”

Nowhere does the UNHCR report about what the State efforts have been nor do we quantify them.

While we appreciate the Inquirer’s efforts in describing the plight of the indigenous peoples of Mindanao, the news item needs to be corrected as it misrepresents the reporting of the UNHCR.

We will be sharing our concerns on this type of reporting with various stakeholders in Mindanao, including the governor’s office, the Armed Forces of the Philippines, Philippine National Police and the Commission on Human Rights which are also reporting on these horrible criminal acts that are causing fear and displacement in these communities.

—PETER DECK, head of office, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Mindanao

 

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An apology is in order.—Ed.

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TAGS: Lumad, lumad killings, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees
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