De Lima applauds passage of US Senate bill promoting human rights, democracy in Indo-Pacific region

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Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has lauded the US Senate’s approval of Asia Reassurance Initiative Act (ARIA) which promotes respect for human rights and basic freedoms as a long-term strategy in Indo-Pacific region, which includes the Philippines.

De Lima, a human rights defender here and abroad, said she welcomes the Senate passage of the ARIA which would give impetus to the fight against violations to human rights and democracy not only in the Philippines but also in whole Indo-Pacific region.

“During these times when our national voice on human rights concerns has been largely silent, the passage of the Senate Bill 2736 in the US can play a crucial role in the fight for democracy, human rights and the rule of law in the country and the whole of Asia,” she said.

“I commend the US Senate, along with the numerous organizations who lobbied for the passage of this significant measure, for boldly addressing the worsening human rights situation globally, including the extrajudicial killings under the rule of President Duterte who focuses on his deadly anti-narcotics campaign while kowtowing to his Chinese masters,” she added.

As a comprehensive and strategic national security legislation, ARIA seeks to demonstrate the US commitments to the region and for a rules-based international order, advancing its interests and goals, including substantive US resource commitments. One of the key features of this powerful legislation is it authorizes U.S. sanctions against human rights abusers.

Logged as Senate Bill 2736, ARIA was approved by the Upper and Lower Chambers of US Congress last Dec. 5 and Dec. 18, respectively. It was introduced by Sen. Cory Gardner, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations subcommittee on Asia and its ranking member Sen. Edward Markey.

According to Rodel Rodis, president of US Pinoys for Good Governance, the measure will boost the morale of human rights defenders, journalists and civil society friends in the Philippines, China and in Asia who are persecuted by their respective governments.

He explained that this new legislation specifically found “unacceptable human rights developments” in the Philippines with “continued disturbing reports of extrajudicial killings” there – alongside Burma’s (Myanmar) ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya people and Chinese government’s massive forced disappearances, “omnipresent surveillance” and lack of judicial due process there. (Sec. 401)

It also, Rodis continued, calls on US President Donald Trump to “impose targeted financial penalties and visa bans sanctions” on human rights violators and persons who “engages in censorship activities” of the news media in the region.

It further urges President Trump to “terminate, suspend, otherwise alter… economic assistance to any country that has engaged in serious violations of human rights or religious freedoms.” (Sec. 408)

Rodis also noted the Philippine National Police was identified for no counter-narcotics funding assistance unless the Duterte administration implemented a counter-narcotics approach “that is consistent with international human rights standards including investigating and prosecuting individuals who are credibly alleged to have ordered, committed, or covered up extrajudicial killings.” (Sec. 201e)

Once signed into law, Rodis said, ARIA also offers US$210 million year in financial aid to civil society groups, universities, multilateral institutions and nongovernmental organizations promoting human rights and the rule of law in the Indo-Pacific nations.

In promoting American values in Indo-Pacific, ARIA provides US$150 million annually for five years for democracy, rule of law, and civil society support, including US$10 million annually for freedom of information efforts in North Korea.

It also calls for additional US efforts against trafficking-in-persons and human slavery and authorizes US sanctions against human rights abusers. The bi-partisan support was also credited to the leadership of the late Senator John McCain, along with Sen. Bob Corker, Sen. Marco Rubio, Sen. Ben Cardin and Sen. Bob Menendez. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy reportedly championed the bill.

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