Press Release
July 3, 2019

De Lima pushes anew for passage of Human Rights Defenders Bill

Amid the unrelenting attacks and abuses against human rights defenders (HRDs) in the country, Opposition Senator Leila M. de Lima has reintroduced a measure to ensure that HRDs receive enough support from the government to allow them to fulfil their duty without the fear of being harassed.

De Lima, a social justice and human rights champion, filed Senate Bill (SB) No. 179 seeking to promote and protect the rights of human rights defenders who bravely stand up against the excesses of the Duterte regime.

"This proposed legislation, which underwent a process of consultation with stakeholders and human rights defenders, [a]ims to institutionalize and enforce state obligations to provide protection to HRDs, and to establish effective legal remedies for violations of the rights of HRDs," she said.

"This version seeks to ascertain that the dynamic community of human rights workers in the Philippines remains free and protected and that the government policies will both support their work and ensure accountability for violations of their rights and freedoms," she added.

Based on the records of the human rights group Karapatan, at least 134 human rights defenders - and still counting - have been killed since Mr. Duterte assumed the presidency in June 2016.

While a counterpart measure was approved by the House of Representatives in the 17th Congress, De Lima's Human Rights Defender Bill, initially filed in February 2018, gathered dust in the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights chaired by Sen. Richard J. Gordon.

"I am hopeful that the Senate will give equal attention and importance to consider and pass this measure during this 18th Congress," said De Lima, chairperson of the Senate Committee on Social Justice, Welfare and Rural Development.

Under SB No. 179 there will be an independent collegial body, to be known as the Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee, responsible for protecting human rights defenders from intimidation and reprisals and for ensuring accountability for acts of intimidation against them.

The Committee is also expected to investigate on its own or on complaint by any party all forms of violations of human rights against HRDs and prepare and submit reports and communications on the situation of human rights defenders to relevant international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms, among others.

The Human Rights Defenders Bill also underscored the obligations of the state and public authorities to respect, promote, protect and fulfill the rights of HRDs by facilitating their activities and work and by refraining from derogatory and unfounded labelling, to name some.

"Under no circumstance shall public authorities engage in false, unfounded and derogatory labeling of human rights defenders, which shall include but not be limited to, identifying them as 'red,' 'communist,' 'terrorist' or 'enemies of the state,' subject to laws governing proscription," De Lima noted.

Among the rights of HRDs highlighted in SB No. 179 include, among others, right to form groups, associations and organizations, right to seek, receive and disseminate information, right to develop and advocate for human rights ideas, and right against vilification.

In refiling the measure, De Lima said she is alarmed that the issue of HRDs being under threat was repeatedly raised in the third cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) reporting of the Philippine government before the UN Human Rights Council despite legal standards and mechanisms in place.

In the Report of the Working Group on the Philippines' UPR Submission, 11 recommendations referred to the situation of human rights defenders but the Philippine government merely noted but did not commit to support the recommendations in the said Report.

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