GENEVA—A Muslim indigenous community in Mindanao has suffered widespread human-rights abuses that could intensify with the extension of martial law there, UN-appointed experts said.
Lawmakers this month overwhelmingly backed a plan to extend martial law there through 2018, which would be the country's longest period of such emergency rule since the 1970s era of President Ferdinand Marcos.
The militarization has allegedly displaced thousands of the Lumad people and some have been allegedly killed, said Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, the UN Human Rights Council's special rapporteurs on the rights of indigenous peoples and internally displaced people.
"They are suffering massive abuses of their human rights, some of which are potentially irreversible," the pair said in a statement late on Wednesday.
"We fear the situation could deteriorate further if the extension of martial law until the end of 2018 results in even greater militarization."
The country was obliged by international law to protect indigenous peoples and ensure human-rights abuses were halted and prosecuted. "This includes killings and attacks allegedly carried out by members of the armed forces," they said.
The government fears that mountainous, jungle-clad Mindanao, a region the size of South Korea that is home to the Lumad, could attract foreign militants.
The UN experts said they had information suggesting that 2,500 Lumads had been displaced since October and that Lumad farmers had been killed by military forces on December 3 in Barangay Ned in South Cotabato.
"We fear that some of these attacks are based on unfounded suspicions that Lumads are involved with militant groups or in view of their resistance to mining activities on their ancestral lands,” the pair said, without giving further details.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the martial law extension was needed "to quell the remaining terrorists who brought destruction to Marawi and its neighboring communities."
Its legal and factual basis had been "clearly established based on the security assessment by our ground commanders", Roque added in a statement.
(Reporting by Tom Miles; additional reporting by Enrico Dela Cruz in Manila; editing by John Stonestreet)