By Hannah Torregoza
Detained Senator Leila de Lima on Easter Sunday renewed her call for Congress to fast track the passage of the bill aimed at protecting and defending the lives of human rights defenders in the country, noting the growing number of attacks against them under the Duterte administration.
“I find it very urgent that we come forward and claim our right, as human rights defenders, to be recognized and protected,” said de Lima, former chief of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) who is currently detained over drug charges.
“Not for our personal sake, but for the sake of our dignity as a people,” she pointed out in a statement.
Amnesty International (AI) has recently recognized de Lima, a vocal critic of the Duterte administration, as one of the notable Women Human Rights Defenders Under Threat.
De Lima has repeatedly underscored the importance of establishing effective legal remedy for the violation of the rights of HRDs.
In filing Senate Bill No 1699, De Lima noted that since the start of the Duterte administration, the country has witnessed the numerous times the President has insulted and rejected the concept of human rights.
“The obsessive attacks against these concepts and principles, led by no less than the President himself, have rendered us, human rights defenders, vulnerable and our work extremely difficult and dangerous,” she pointed out.
She also noted that women HRDs, and activists in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community have become vulnerable not only to killings and harassment but also to misogynistic attacks and violence.
The senator further denounced Duterte’s public declaration he would order the shooting of HR workers as “it clearly places human rights defenders under threat and encourages culture of impunity.”
If passed into law, she said the bill, also known as the “Human Rights Defenders Act of 2018,” obligates the government to ensure protection of HRDs against intimidation and unlawful intrusion by any public or private individual.
The bill also mandates the government to conduct investigation “whenever there is reasonable ground to believe that a human rights defender has been killed, disappeared, tortured, ill-treated, arbitrarily detained, threatened or subject to a violation of any of the rights…”
“The State must ensure that a prompt, thorough, effective, independent and impartial investigation is conducted with due diligence and is prosecuted as appropriate,” she stated.
De Lima also said the measure secures the rights and freedoms of HRDs from defamation and harassment “in all forms of media and communication, and whether by public authorities or private actors, in association with his or her status, activities or work as a human rights defenders,