De Lima files bill to protect human rights defenders

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With the growing number of attacks against human rights defenders (HRDs) under the Duterte administration, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima today filed a measure seeking to institutionalize and enforce state obligations for the protection of their rights.

De Lima, who was recognized by Amnesty International as one of the notable Women Human Rights Defenders Under Threat, also underscored the importance of establishing effective legal remedy for the violation of the rights of HRDs.

“Sa simula pa lamang po ng administrasyong Duterte, mahigit isang taon at kalahati na ngayon, ay nasaksihan na natin kung paano ininsulto at hinamak ang konsepto ng karapatang pantao,” she said in filing Senate Bill (SB) No. 1699.

“The obsessive attacks against these concepts and principles, led by no less than the President himself, have rendered us, human rights defenders, vulnerable and our work extremely difficult and dangerous,” she added.

De Lima noted how women human rights defenders and activists in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have become vulnerable not only to killings and harassment but also to misogynistic attacks and sexual violence.

“I find it very urgent that we come forward and claim our right, as human rights defenders, to be recognized and protected. Not for our personal sake, but for the sake of our dignity as a people,” she pointed out in a statement read during a media briefing.

The former justice secretary also denounced Duterte’s public declaration last year that he will order the shooting of human rights workers as it “clearly places human rights defenders under threat and encourages culture of impunity.”

“Enforced disappearance, death, harassment, suppression of fundamental human rights and freedoms are continuing challenges of individuals and the organizations to which they belong. This does not escape notice from outside the Philippines,” she added.

She cited the March 2017 report of human rights group Frontline Defenders, which claimed that 15 HRDs working on various issues have been killed in a span of just three months.

“Governments are often annoyed, defensive and hostile towards interventions of advocates, but that should not be the case,” she said.

Under SB No. 1699, also known as the “Human Rights Defenders Act of 2018,” it is the government’s obligation to ensure protection of HRDs against intimidation and unlawful intrusion by any public or private individual.

It is also the responsibility of the government under the proposed measure to conduct investigation “whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a human rights defender has been killed, disappeared, tortured, ill-treated, arbitrarily detained, threatened or subject to a violation of any of the rights…”

“The State must ensure that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation is conducted with due diligence and is prosecuted as appropriate,” she stated.

De Lima also stated in the measure the rights and freedoms of HRDs from defamation and harassment “in all forms of media and communication, and whether by public authorities or private actors, in association with his or her status, activities or work as a human rights defender.”

The Senator from Bicol stated that the Commission on Human Rights shall exercise the functions of a protection mechanism for all HRDs in accordance with its constitutional mandate, pertinent laws and guidelines, as well as standards governing the functions and responsibilities of a national human rights institution.

In December 2017, De Lima filed proposed Senate Resolution No. 153 which called for a Senate investigation into the reported deaths of 17 women HRDs summarily killed amid the rash of extrajudicial killings in the country.

In the resolution, she said the State has an obligation to protect human rights defenders, especially those who were abused as a consequence of their gender, sexual orientation and activism.

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