Human rights defenders bill should be enacted, amid violations vs activists

Karapatan submitted its position paper on House Bill 1617, or the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Bill, to the Committee on Human Rights, House of Representatives today, August 15, 2017. The human rights organization expressed its full support for the bill, authored by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate, and its pertinent provisions aimed at protecting human rights defenders (HRDs) who already have ‘a foot in the grave’. Said provisions include access to documents of government units and personnel, paramilitary units and personnel, military affiliate and assets, and a measure wherein HRDs can file a motion to dismiss fabricated criminal complaints filed to discourage their work.

 

“It is a long-overdue measure. The Philippines signed the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders in 1998, but a domestic law has yet to be enacted in accordance with the said declaration. The situation is urgent, and a human rights defenders’ protection bill that comprehensively underscores the needs and dangers of human rights work vis-à-vis State repression is an important response to this,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.

 

Palabay cited numerous cases of killings, harassment and other forms of violations against human rights defenders. She lamented that more than forty (40) of the organization’s own human rights workers have been killed by State security forces since 2001. This includes Eden Marcellana, Fernando Baldomero, William Bugatti, Romeo Capalla, and Teodoro Escanilla. Of these cases, no perpetrator has been brought to justice. Given a 16-year-period, starting from the Arroyo presidency up to the present, a total of 663 human rights defenders have already been killed in the course of their work.

 

“Attacks against human rights defenders are executed on the basis of the implementation of counterinsurgency programs throughout different administrations. In attempts to delegitimize their respective advocacies and justify violations, HRDs are commonly labeled as ‘enemies of the State’ by the military and the police. The State’s desperation in repressing those who dare challenge the status quo has created the dire situation in which HRDs on the ground currently face,” added Palabay, citing the bill’s provision (section 9 and section 11) which recognizes the right of human rights workers against false labelling and the option of a temporary protection order against government personnel, military and paramilitary units and other State agents.

 

Karapatan also raised the pressing issue of HRDs who are red-tagged and are placed under surveillance. Palabay said that “Año’s recent scheme of giving a bounty of Php100,000 for every NPA member arrested or killed provides a dangerous stage ladened with mistaken identities, false accusations and mindless targeting of human rights defenders and local leaders. This will only serve as another money making scheme to be abused by the corrupt and already disrepute military and police force.’

 

Moreover, Karapatan also proposed to add measures for redress for women human rights defenders and activists in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community who experience sexualized forms of attacks because of their gender.  

 

“With the intensification of counter insurgency program Oplan Kapayapaan, compounded by the extension of martial law in Mindanao, more human rights abuses are to be expected. It is thus more urgent and compelling for Congress to immediately pass HB 1617, to protect the rights of human rights defenders and that of the Filipino people,” concluded Palabay.

 

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