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National inquiry finds government undermining protection of human rights defenders

Graphic: A man stands beside a protest sign on his car, Philippines

The report of the CHR's national inquiry said that human rights defenders across the country face "insufferable challenges".

A national inquiry by the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has concluded that the government "purposely" engaged in activities that prevented the fulfillment of the UN Declaration adopted to protect human rights defenders from harassment and violence.

In its final report, the CHR said that the role of human rights defenders "in promoting human rights and advocating for change is essential in upholding the fundamental values of a democratic society".

However, it found that "the Government, beyond failing to adopt the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders, purposely engages in acts that frustrate the fulfillment of the rights provided therein".

"The Commission reminds the State of its obligation to promote and protect human rights without discrimination," the national inquiry report said.

"Restricting the ability of human rights defenders and civil society to counter repressive practices is short-sighted and counterproductive to the stability of our democracy."

All forms of violence against human rights defenders must immediately cease.

Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines Logo Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

The CHR's decision to conduct a national inquiry was made in April 2019 in response to individuals and organisations coming forward with allegations of human rights violations attributed to State officials.

Public hearings were held from 9-12 September 2019, involving human rights defenders, civil society organisations, government agencies and security forces.

"Through the Inquiry, the real situation of human rights defenders and the insufferable challenges that they face in the country today were revealed," the report said.

FORUM-ASIA, a regional human rights organisation operating in 21 countries, told the national inquiry that "the Philippines is one of the deadliest countries in Asia for HRDs to operate in".

Between 2017 and 2018, FORUM-ASIA documented at least 59 cases of attacks, intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders in the Philippines. Two-thirds of these incidents – a total of 39 – were killings, mostly targeting land and environmental rights defenders and journalists.

Graphic: Women raise their arms in a rally, Manila

The national inquiry report called on the Government to immediately investigate attacks on human rights defenders, prosecute alleged perpetrators and provide defenders with remedies and reparation.

It also highlighted the responsibility of States to prevent violations by taking legal, judicial, administrative and all other measures to ensure the full enjoyment by human rights defenders of their rights.

The Report on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders in the Philippines includes a series of recommendations to Congress for policies and preventive mechanisms to uphold the rule of law, provide effective protection to HRDs and grant redress for human rights violations.

"It is hoped that the Inquiry will inform and educate the general public on human rights, the work of human rights defenders and violations against them, and the corresponding responsibilities of duty bearers – the Government - to prevent the same," the report said.

Date: 15 July 2020

Source: Commission on Human Rights

Image credits

  1. A man stands beside a protest sign on his car, Philippines - Water Alternatives, Flickr CC
  2. Women raise their arms in a rally, Manila - Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines