On June 3, the House of Representativesadopted House Bill No. 9199, also known as the Human Rights Defenders Bill, onits third and final reading. The bill proposes, amongothers, the recognition of human rights defenders and their work, obligationsof State actors towards them, and the creation of a Human Rights DefendersProtection 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 ofthis long overdue bill by the House of Representatives, which responds to theworrisome situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines, and conformsto various international human rights instruments, including the United Nations Declaration on theRights of Human Rights Defenders adopted in 1998.
House Bill No. 9199 still needs to becomplemented by the adoption of a similar bill in the Senate, where Senator Leilade Lima filed Bill No. 1699 in February 2018. This bill is still pending atthe committee level. Senator de Lima has been arbitrarily detained sinceFebruary 24, 2017, on trumped-up accusations that directly aim at sanctioningher human rights activities.
At the end of May 2019, upon returning from an internationalmission to the Philippines, the Observatory expressed its utmost concern over the ongoing repression of human rights defendersand the further deterioration of the environment in which they operate. TheObservatory warned that President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on human rightsdefenders was likely to intensify after his candidates won the May 13 electionsfor Senate.
In the Philippines, human rights defendersare often criminalised and tagged as “terrorists” or “enemies of the State” asa means to encourage counterinsurgency programs and violent attacks againstthem. Since the election of Rodrigo Duterte in May 2016, scores of human rightsdefenders and human rights lawyers have been killed for exposing human rightsviolations 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 officialcapacity since the election of President Duterte.Concerned with the sharp deterioration of the human rights situation, in a June7 press release eleven UN human rights expertscalled on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into human rights violations committed in thePhilippines.
“Instead ofattacking human rights defenders and UN human rights mechanisms, theauthorities should comply with UN instruments, in particular the UN Declarationon Human Rights Defenders”, the Observatory said today. “The adoption of a human rights defenders protection lawwould recognise human rights defenders as key partners of democracy and rule oflaw that need to be protected, in a context of increasingly shrinking space forcivil society in the country”, the Observatory concluded.
The Observatory forthe Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) is a partnershipcreated in 1997 by the FIDH and the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT)and aims to intervene to prevent or remedy concrete situations of repressionagainst human rights defenders. FIDH and OMCT are both members ofProtectDefenders.eu, the European Union mechanism for human rights defendersimplemented by international civil society.