UN expert concerned over De Lima’s plight

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A United Nations (UN) expert has expressed concern over the situation of Senator Leila M. de Lima who has been unjustly detained for almost two years now due to trumped-up illegal drug trading charges hurled against her by the Duterte administration.

In a Report submitted to the 40th Session of the UN Human Rights Council this Feb. 25 to March 22, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst cited De Lima’s plight among women human rights defenders under threat in the Philippines.

“Women leaders who represent their groups and speak out on issues tend to be targeted for their visibility – not only to silence them but also to discourage broader dissent,” the 20-page UN report stated.

De Lima, considered as a prisoner of conscience, was cited in the report, along with former Supreme Court Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, all of whom have spoken critically of Mr. Duterte’s flawed policy on illegal drugs.

“She (De Lima) has been held on politically-motivated, non-bailable charges for violating the Comprehensive Drugs Act of 2002; while in detention, she has been subject to restrictions,” the report added.

The UN Report also mentioned Sereno who was unprecedentedly and unconstitutionally removed from office last May 2018 due to her strong objection to the Duterte administration’s policies on drugs and martial law.

“When she (Sereno) refused to resign, he (Duterte) pushed for her impeachment, even ordering Congress to remove her,” it pointed out.

As chief executive of the news website Rappler, Ressa was also cited in the UN Report for having been charged by the Duterte administration with tax evasion, a move many believed to be political persecution due to her news agency’s criticism on Duterte.

Last Dec. 18, news reports have quoted Forst’s report naming the Philippines as among the countries whose government put human rights defenders and activists under what it called “an alarming and shameful level of harsh reprisals and intimidation.”

He called on the Philippine government to stop what he called the “public stigmatization, defamation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, and criminalization of defenders” of human rights defenders and activists.

Last Aug. 24, the UN Human Rights Council – Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (UNHRC-WGAD) has also called on the Philippine government to free De Lima from illegal detention and accord her an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, including her reinstatement in the positions from which she was ousted. It has also recommended to the Philippine government to take necessary steps to remedy De Lima’s situation without delay and bring it into conformity with relevant international norms set by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The UN panel asked the Philippine government to ensure a full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding De Lima’s arbitrary deprivation of liberty and take appropriate measures against those responsible for violating her right. The UNHRC-WGAD has further referred De Lima’s case to (1) UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, (2) the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and (3) the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.

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