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The Supreme Court has an opportunity to prevent abuse and torture in the fight against terrorism

28 June 2021

On 26 June 2021, the International Day in Support of Victims of Torture, the OMCT submitted a legal brief to the Supreme Court of the Philippines in support of 37 petitions by civil society organisations, lawyers, academics and individuals challenging the constitutionality of the Anti-Terrorism Act 2020.

The Anti-Terrorism Act, that came into force in June 2020, has been heavily criticised by the UN as well as civil society organisations, including the OMCT. The Anti-Terrorism Act undermines fundamental rights and creates an environment prone to abuse, including torture. In particular, the law contains a vague and overly broad definition of terrorism that carries a serious risk of arbitrary application and abuse. It also legalises extended periods of warrantless arrests of up to 24 days, imposes life imprisonment without parole for providing material support to a terrorist, and allows for children to be tried under the Act. Moreover, the Act creates an Anti-Terrorism Council comprised of top government officials that executes functions normally reserved for courts, like determining when the law applies and authorising arrest without warrant.

The experience of OMCT’s SOS-Torture Network, as well as its Torture and Terrorism Working Group, has shown that similar anti-terrorism laws in other countries have led to unjust regimes. Our legal brief provides concrete cases from 11 countries illustrating, among other things, how anti-terrorism laws that are not compliant with international standards lead to forced confessions, the execution of minors, censorship of legitimate freedom of expression, arbitrary detention, and the prosecution of human rights defenders.

While States have the right and the duty to counter terrorist acts in order to protect individuals under their jurisdiction, they must abide by internationally accepted standards while doing so. We ask the Supreme Court of the Philippines to use its power and to declare the Anti-Terrorism Act unconstitutional and non-compliant with international human rights law.

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