Yesterday, the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders presented her report at the General Assembly's Third Committee on the long-term detention of human rights defenders.
Since President Duterte’s election in 2016, the human rights situation in the Philippines has steadily worsened. Violence against human rights defenders has dramatically increased. There have been numerous extrajudicial killings including Zara Alvarez last August and the ‘Bloody Sunday’ killings this March, as well as others under the guise of Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’. Reprisals against human rights defenders have increased, progress has stalled on the bill to enhance legal protections for defenders in the country and new, restrictive laws have been passed. The 2020 Anti-Terrorism law increases government power to take unsubstantiated legal action against activists by labeling them ‘terrorists’. This contributes to ‘red tagging’, where State agents falsely brand activists leftist, communist, terrorist or subversive, thereby putting them in increased danger. The Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression’s recent report highlighted this practice as an example of State-led disinformation that can be devastating to human rights.
In this context, ISHR – along with more than one hundred NGOs, lawyers, academics, faith leaders, and civil society members from around the world – wrote a letter calling on the Supreme Court of the Philippines to establish greater legal protections for human rights defenders. The letter expresses ‘profound and urgent concern [for] recent extrajudicial killings, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrests and detention and threats through red-tagging against human rights defenders…’ and makes recommendations on how legal protections for human rights defenders can be strengthened.
This letter follows the submission of a number of cases by Philippine-based groups to the Court, which themselves were responses to the Court’s March statement condemning violence against lawyers and judges. The Court noted that Dutarte’s five-year regime has been the deadliest period ever for lawyers and judges in the country, particularly those representing victims of government-sponsored violence, and stated its intention to provide greater security to those threatened.
National and international actors have called on the UN Human Rights Council to launch an independent investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines. During the current 47th session of the Council, Karapatan and the APWLD renewed this call, referencing the ICC’s request for an investigation into alleged rights violations in the Duterte administration’s ‘drug war’.
‘Despite the mounting and extreme challenges human rights defenders face in the Philippines, it is clear they will continue pushing for greater protection, security and accountability in all avenues available to them. We urge the Supreme Court to respond to this call and enhance protections for defenders,’ said ISHR’s Tess McEvoy.
Today, UN member States elected members to the UN's top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, for the 2022-2024 term. 18 candidates ran for 18 seats, and all were elected, leaving civil society disappointed in a process that can hardly be called an election.
On 14 October 2021, the UK delivered a cross-regional statement on behalf of 80 countries, condemning intimidation and reprisals, and calling on States to prioritise and support the meaningful participation of civil society at the UN.
Futures thinking encourages us to identify small ‘signals of change’ which might help to identify and influence the futures that come to pass. At ISHR we’ve identified and, together with advocates and activists from around the world, helped contribute to a number of small but significant signals of positive human rights change in recent weeks.
ISHR together with 36 NGOs from around the world have called on member States of the UN General Assembly to sign on to a cross-regional joint statement on reprisals at the 76th session of the UNGA Third Committee.
During the interactive dialogue with the Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights on the SG’s Reprisals Report, some States raised specific cases of reprisals, whilst others drew attention to the use of COVID-19 as a guise under which reprisals were committed and also raised the additional risks to human rights defenders online as a result of the pandemic.
Human rights organisations* urge the immediate and unconditional release of Egyptian human rights defender Mohamed El-Baqer, who completes today two years in arbitrary detention.
On 17 September 2021, the UN Secretary-General released his annual report on reprisals and intimidation against individuals and groups seeking to cooperate with the UN on human rights. Once again, the report identifies a high number of threats and attacks aimed at retaliating against defenders and discouraging cooperation with the UN.
On 7 September 2021, the International Service for Human Rights facilitated a multi-stakeholder dialogue with United Nations experts, the International Chamber of Commerce and the Inter-American Commission of Human Rights to discuss about Business, Human Rights and Human Rights Defenders.
This week in an online event, 10 candidate States publicly spoke to an audience of around 200 people on their pledges as incoming Human Rights Council members for 2022 – 2024. They also faced questions on pressing human rights issues from both States and civil society organisations.
At the 47th session of the Human Rights Council, ISHR along with the Informal Sector Service Center presented a joint statement in Nepal’s Universal Periodic Review expressing concern about the situation of human rights defenders in the country.
A new ISHR report maps China’s presence and influence in the UN economic and social affairs system, highlighting potential risks for civil society participation and the promotion and protection of human rights.