Alert: Urgent call to lift Covid-19 related restrictions in places of detention

New Anti-Terrorism Law Undermines Safeguards Against Arbitrary Detention and Torture

Geneva, 4 June 2020 - The enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2020 in the Philippines would create an environment prone to torture and abuse and undermine fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly, said the SOS-Torture Network Working Group on Torture and Counter-terrorism of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT).

House Bill No. 6875 or Anti-Terrorism Act 2020 passed on its third and final reading on June 3, after President Rodrigo Duterte pressed to fast-track the bill "to address the urgent need to strengthen the law on anti-terrorism" and "effectively contain the menace of terrorist acts. The bill is now up for the President's signature.

The OMCT Working Group on Torture and Counter-terrorism warned against the dangers of such a law, which would curtail basic rights and greatly reduce some of the most fundamental safeguards against arbitrary detention, torture, cruel or inhuman and degrading treatment or punishment. “Anti-terrorism measures enacted in violation of human rights standards are counter-productive and create an environment prone to arbitrary detention, torture and impunity. They not only undermine fair trial guarantees and fundamental principles of the rule of law but ultimately also the very national security they were meant to protect”, the Working Group said.

The Anti-Terrorism Act 2020 seeks to introduce provisions imposing up to 12-year imprisonment on those who join a terrorist organization or threaten to commit a terrorist act. The commitment of acts of terrorism, regardless of the stage of execution, the recruitment to a terrorist organisation, as well as provision of material support to terrorists would be punishable with life imprisonment without parole. Those accused of proposing, inciting, conspiring, and participating in the planning, training, and facilitation in the commission of terrorism could also face life imprisonment without the possibility of parole.

The bill also legalises extended periods of warrantless arrests, bringing the number of days suspected terrorists can be detained without a warrant from three to up to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days. A newly created Anti-Terrorism Council (ATC), comprised of top Cabinet officials, would have the power to determine who is a terrorist and to authorise arrests without warrant - a function usually reserved for the courts. The bill further scraps off the provision on payment of 500,000 Philippines pesos ($10,000) damages for wrongful detention.

“Warrantless arrests and prolonged pre-trial detention without judicial supervision are a green card for systemic torture and abuse”, warned the Working Group.

The Working Group further expressed concern over the vague and overly broad definition of terrorism contained in the bill, which would make it open to arbitrary application and abuse. “We remind the Philippines government that counter-terrorism legislation must be sufficiently precise to comply with the principle of legality, so as to prevent the possibility that it may be used to target civil society on political or other unjustified grounds.”

In a country deemed to be one of the most dangerous for human rights defenders, there are concerns that the adoption of this new law may give the government even further latitude to crack down on critics and dissenting voices and to label virtually anyone a “terrorist”. “We have seen again and again how such anti-terrorism laws have been used to justify torture, quash dissent and imprison human rights defenders”, the Working Group said.

Lists of human rights defenders and organisations, including OMCT Network members MAG, PAHRA, Karapatan, TFDP and Gabriela, church groups, scholars and journalists tagged as “terrorist” have regularly been released by State officials. In 2018 the name of the UN Special Rapporteur on indigenous people, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, was also included in one of these lists.

The Working Group called on the Philippines to immediately repeal all abusive counter-terrorism laws; to refrain from abusing counter-terrorism measures as a tool to stifle and harass critical voices and; to ensure that the national security legal framework complies with international standards and that its implementation is in line with the Philippines’ obligations regarding the absolute prohibition of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment.

When anti-terror measures are subverted, it is not only human rights that are jeopardized, but also the legitimacy of counter-terrorism policing itself.

For more information:

Iolanda Jaquemet, Director of Communications, , +41 79 539 41 06

The Torture & Terrorism Working group is an initiative led by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) gathering 17 prominent human rights organizations from around the world, all working in contexts of tense security situations including terrorist violence and counter-terrorism laws and measures. The group seeks to build collective understanding and guide anti-torture advocacy in environments affected by terrorism and violent extremism. It operates under the patronage of the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, the UN Special Rapporteur on Terrorism and Human Rights as well as that of the OMCT President, Ms Hina Jilani.

Sign up now

Subscribe to our latest news & alerts