MANILA, Philippines — An international human rights watchdog on Monday urged the Zamboanga City government to ensure that the planned relocation of evacuees camped along the city’s seaside Cawa-cawa district is “done peacefully” and with full protection of their rights.
Human Rights Watch, in a statement, said more than 64,600 internally displaced persons remain in evacuation camps or sheltering with relatives and friends in the southern port city seven months after the fighting between government forces and the Moro National Liberation Front last September.
More than 4,000, mostly seafaring Badjaos, continue to stay in tents pitched along the shore in Cawa-cawa. Thousands more evacuees also remain at the Joaquin Enriquez Sports Complex.
At least 108 evacuees have died long after the fighting ended because of diseases such as dengue fever, pneumonia and diarrhea that breed in “squalid conditions.”
Last December, reports that the city government intended to relocate the Badjaos inland, away from the sea on which they live and depend on for their livelihood, raised questions and an online petition against further uprooting the sea gypsies.
Should the planned relocation push through, Phelim Kine, HRW deputy director for Asia said, it “should be done peacefully and fully respecting the rights and well-being of IDPs who have already been traumatized by the Zamboanga violence late last year."
"Any security forces deployed to assist with the relocations should prioritize the rights and safety of the IDPs" Kine said.
"Philippines' security forces — including any involved in the Cawa-cawa evacuation camp relocation — are obligated to follow the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials," the HRW officer added. "Those principles set out international law on the use of force in law enforcement situations and provide that security forces shall as far as possible apply nonviolent means before resorting to the use of force."