Philippine Authorities Should Protect Human Rights Defenders

United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor called on the authorities in the Philippines to protect human rights defenders, instead of pursuing countersuits against them for seeking legal protection from threats.

The call comes as leading Woman Human Rights Defender Cristina Palabay is due to take the witness stand on Monday June 20 in a long-running court case brought by the authorities against her and other members of the NGO Karapatan, where she works.

“The perjury case brought by the government may also be a form of retaliation for the human rights activities of these local Human Rights Defenders. We have seen in recent years that many defenders have been dragged before the courts, smeared, red tagged and murdered in the Philippines. This intimidation should stop immediately,” said Lawlor.

This case has previously been cited by the UN Special Rapporteur’s mandate and by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Two other witnesses who were to testify in relation to Karapatan’s bid to seek legal protection from courts – Ryan Hubilla of Karapatan-Sorsogon and Zara Alvarez of the Karapatan network – were killed in June 2019 and August 2020 respectively.

“I urge the authorities in the Philippines to stop the targeting of Human Rights Defenders, and instead promote and protect their work, said Lawlor. “We know that harassment and threats can be precursors to physical attacks, as they make defenders more vulnerable and isolated. These attacks should stop immediately.”

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Mary Lawlor was appointed UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders in May 2020. The UN Special Rapporteur has a mandate to promote the work of Human Rights Defenders and protect defenders at risk. She does this in the context of the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by consensus in 1998. She serves in a voluntary capacity and is independent of the UN, States and non-governmental organisations.

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