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Scarborough Shoal and the violation of human rights

Center Law Philippines yesterday (June 24) submitted an urgent appeal to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to call attention to the human rights violations which took place on the fishing grounds of the Scarborough Shoal (locally known as “Panatag Shoal” or “Bajo de Masinloc”).

Scarborough Shoal is 18 hours away from the coastal towns of Masinloc and Subic yet the fisherfolk still seek out the area because of its rich marine resource. Aside from giving them their livelihood, the area also provides safe refuge when storms occur in the West Philippine Sea. Filipinos refer to it as “Panatag Shoal,” with the word “panatag” meaning tranquil. There is more reason for the Filipino fishermen to seek refuge in Scarborough Shoal as it is within the 200 nautical miles-exclusive economic zone of the Philippines.

However, from April 2012, members of the Chinese Coast Guard and other Chinese maritime agencies have been physically harassing these Filipino fisherfolk when they visit the shoal. Several of them have been approached while they were conducting their usual business as fisherfolk. They were either told to leave, or were intimidated to the point that they were forced to leave.

 Macario Forones encountered Chinese personnel carrying AK47 rifles and was told to “Go away.” Intimidated by the weapons they carried, he and his group left the area. As they were leaving, Chinese helicopters followed them out of the area and even past it. After this encounter, Forones chose not to go back Scarborough Shoal as he was traumatized by the experience.

The rights violated include: right to a livelihood, right to life, and their right to the places of refuge for ships in distress in accordance with the right to life. This is according to several United Nations issuances, specifically the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and other international customary norms.

China and its state agents violated the right to an adequate standard of living of the Filipino fisherfolk —provided under Article 11 of the ICESCR and under Article 25 of the UDHR—by preventing these Filipino fisherfolk from fishing in the traditional and marine resource rich lagoon of Scarborough Shoal.

Article 11 of the ICESCR provides: 1. The States Parties to the present Covenant recognize the right of everyone to an adequate standard of living for himself and his family, including adequate food, clothing and housing, and to the continuous improvement of living conditions. The States Parties will take appropriate steps to ensure the realization of this right, recognizing to this effect the essential importance of international co-operation based on free consent.

Further, the actions of China’s state agents in forcing the Filipino fishermen to leave the traditional and rich fishing grounds of Scarborough Shoal and in preventing them from fishing in the shoal constitutes a violation of the Filipino fishermen’s right to an adequate standard of living under Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and well-being of himself and of his family, including food, xxx.

The actions of China’s state agents in preventing Filipino fishermen from seeking refuge in Scarborough Shoal in times of inclement and bad weather pose serious threats to the lives of these fishermen, and constitutes a violation of the Filipino fishermen’s right to life under Article 3 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights: Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person.

China is a signatory to both the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). As a signatory, it has an international obligation to uphold its contents and to prevent any violations from worsening.

The petitioners urgently appeal the United Nations to urgently intervene and investigate the human rights violations committed by China and its state agents against Filipino fisherfolk in Scarborough Shoal; to express grave concern on the human rights violations committed by China and its state agents against Filipino fisherfolk in Scarborough Shoal.

The appeal asks the United Nations Commission on Human Rights to remind, declare and direct China to cease and desist from committing these violations and from interfering with the rights of the Filipinos fisherfolk, and to remind declare and direct China to provide effective remedies and compensation following the violations committed by its state agents.

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