Paris-Geneva, January 21, 2022 -The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH) welcomes the adoption of the Human Rights Defenders Act by the Philippine House of Representatives, and calls on the Senate to pass a similar bill, in order to promulgate and implement a national protection law for human rights defenders in the Philippines.
On January 17, 2022, the House of Representatives adopted House Bill No. 10576, also known as the Human Rights Defenders Act, on its third and final reading. Two hundred members of the House of Representatives voted in favour of approving the proposed measure, and there were no abstentions or votes against.
The act proposes, among others, the recognition of human rights defenders, organisations, and their work, obligations of state actors towards them, and the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee, in line with the provisions included in the United Nations (UN) Declaration on the Rights of Human Rights Defenders, adopted in 1998.
The Observatory welcomes the passing of House Bill No. 10576 but recalls that in 2019, the House of Representatives had already adopted a Human Rights Defenders Bill under House Bill No. 9199. Yet, the Senate failed to adopt its corresponding bill and hence it was never enacted into a law, despite reiterated calls by international civil society and the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders to prioritise the passage of legislation for the protection of human rights defenders.
In the Philippines, human rights defenders face attacks, killings, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention and stigmatisation campaigns led by both state and non-state actors. Since President Duterte took power in June 2016, a climate in which attacks against human rights defenders are acceptable and legitimised has prevailed. The killings of defenders are rarely investigated, which increases the vulnerability of those who remain active, while undermining the human rights community’s confidence in the justice system. In addition, the Anti-Terrorism Act, which was passed in July 2020, further compounded the precarious situation for human rights defenders by legally formalising the practice of “red-tagging” defenders with overly broad and vague definitions of terrorism.
The Observatory calls on the Senate to expedite the adoption of its corresponding Human Rights Defenders Act in order to advance in the enactment of a comprehensive Human Rights Defenders law, in accordance with international human rights standards. Moreover, the Observatory urges the authorities to immediately put an end to the killings, arbitrary arrests and detentions, judicial harassment, threats and red-tagging against human rights defenders, and to conduct independent and impartial investigations into any form of persecution they face.