Philippines: Senate must adopt Human Rights Defenders Bill, after landmark adoption by House of Representatives

11/06/2019
Press release

Paris-Geneva, June 11, 2019 - The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a FIDH-OMCT partnership, welcomes the adoption of the Human Rights Defenders Bill by the Philippine House of Representatives, and calls on the Senate to pass a similar bill, in order to promulgate and implement a national human rights protection law in the Philippines.

On June 3, the House of Representatives adopted House Bill No. 9199, also known as the Human Rights Defenders Bill, on its third and final reading. The bill proposes, among others, the recognition of human rights defenders and their work, obligations of State actors towards them, and the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee. The process for the adoption of this bill started in 2007, and many human rights defenders, lawmakers and organisations participated in the drafting process and campaigned tirelessly for its adoption.

The Observatory welcomes the passing of this long overdue bill by the House of Representatives, which responds to the worrisome situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines, and conforms to various international human rights instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders adopted in 1998.

House Bill No. 9199 still needs to be complemented by the adoption of a similar bill in the Senate, where Senator Leila de Lima filed Bill No. 1699 in February 2018. This bill is still pending at the committee level. Senator de Lima has been arbitrarily detained since February 24, 2017, on trumped-up accusations that directly aim at sanctioning her human rights activities.

At the end of May 2019, upon returning from an international mission to the Philippines, the Observatory expressed its utmost concern over the ongoing repression of human rights defenders and the further deterioration of the environment in which they operate. The Observatory warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on human rights defenders was likely to intensify after his candidates won the May 13 elections for Senate.

In the Philippines, human rights defenders are often criminalised and tagged as “terrorists” or “enemies of the State” as a means to encourage counterinsurgency programs and violent attacks against them. Since the election of Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016, scores of human rights defenders and human rights lawyers have been killed for exposing human rights violations and demanding accountability. UN Special Rapporteurs have also been repeatedly slandered and threatened, and no mandate-holder has been allowed to visit the country in an official capacity since the election of President Duterte. Concerned with the sharp deterioration of the human rights situation, in a June 7 press release eleven UN human rights experts called on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations committed in the Philippines.

Instead of attacking human rights defenders and UN human rights mechanisms, the authorities should comply with UN instruments, in particular the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders ”, the Observatory said today. “ The adoption of a human rights defenders protection law would recognise human rights defenders as key partners of democracy and rule of law that need to be protected, in a context of increasingly shrinking space for civil society in the country ”, the Observatory concluded.

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) is a partnership created in 1997 by the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and aims to intervene to prevent or remedy concrete situations of repression against human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members of ProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union mechanism for human rights defenders implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
FIDH: Eva Canan (French, English): + 33 6 48 05 91 57
OMCT: Delphine Reculeau (French, English): + 41 22 809 49 39

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