September 22, 2015 / 5:03 PM / 2 years ago

U.N. calls on Philippines to investigate killings of rights activists

MANILA (Reuters) - The United Nations on Tuesday called on the Philippine government to investigate immediately the killings of three human rights activists on a southern island affected by long-running armed conflict.

In a statement, U.N. special rapporteurs Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, on the rights of indigenous people, and Michel Forst, on the situation of human rights defenders, expressed serious concern about increasing rights violations in the area.

"We urge the Philippines authorities to ensure that such investigation into these tragic events be carried out independently to identify and bring perpetrators to justice," the two rapporteurs said.

Their call came weeks after three human rights activists were killed inside a school in Surigao del Sur province by armed men who were trained by the Philippine army as part of a counter-insurgency program.

Philippine-based human rights groups said the military occupied the school after the killings and restricted movements of about 2,000 indigenous people, who were forced to flee to the town center.

The military has denied any links with the armed group behind the attack, claiming the killings were carried out by a rival tribe as part of a clan war.

The Philippines has sent representatives to the Human Rights Council in Geneva to defend the government's right records and announced an investigation is underway to bring to justice those behind the killings.

Christof Heyns, the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, also endorsed the call for an impartial and speedy investigation.

Reporting By Manuel Mogato: Editing By xxxx

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