by PhilRights Staff

At Risk: Human rights defenders in the Philippines

Human rights defenders (HRDs) are groups or individuals committed to promoting and protecting human rights and the fundamental freedoms of people. stand in the frontlines to challenge authorities, groups, and even individuals who do not give value to human rights.

Unfortunately, this passion to uphold human rights has also become the reason why the lives of HRDs are being threatened.

In the Philippines, for instance, human rights activists have become targets of various assaults–verbal harassments from the president, terrorist-tagging, enforced disappearances, and killings. In fact, Dublin-based human rights defenders organization Front Line Defenders recorded 60 Filipino HRDs killed on the job in 2017.

There are also efforts to silence human rights activists. One famous example of this persecution is Senator Leila De Lima. She is one of the administration’s biggest critics and has been in jail for over a year now on trumped up charges. Indigenous Peoples’ activists, including United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz were branded as terrorists by the Department of Justice earlier this year.


Initiatives to protect human rights defenders

Despite being locked up in jail, Senator De Lima filed Senate Bill 1699 or the Human Rights Defenders Bill earlier this year in order to safeguard her fellow defenders in the face of the growing number of threats.

According to Senator De Lima, it is also the duty of the State to protect the human rights defenders and investigate when there is a clear violation of HRDs’ rights.

In celebration of the 20th year anniversary of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) released information materials to “raise greater awareness about the declaration” among HRDs and the public.

FORUM-ASIA also notes that there is limited access in Asian countries on information about the roles and characteristics of human rights defenders, thus these information materials. Their statement adds that “[t]hey may also be unaware that the State has duties and obligations to protect and support defenders, and to create an enabling environment for HRDs to carry out their legitimate work.”

A poster set, translated into five (5) Asian languages including Tagalog, discuss the declaration and describe human rights organizations. These two posters were made available to the public with the help of FORUM-ASIA’s member organizations such as the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) in the Philippines.

Read the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders here.

Read the Senate Bill 1699 here.


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