Human Rights Watch calls for release of De Lima

Human Rights Watch calls for release of De Lima
Former Sen. Leila De Lima arrives at the Muntinlupa Regional Trial Court Branch 204 on Friday, September 30, to attend the resumption of the hearing into the drug case filed against her.
Office of Leila De Lima / release

MANILA, Philippines — New York-based Human Rights Watch on Thursday called for the release of former Sen. Leila de Lima who has been in police custody since 2017 on drug cases that she says are politically motivated. 

The rights watchdog noted that de Lima's detention may be a case of political retalition for her investigations into alleged rights violations in the Duterte administration's "war on drugs" and to killings in Davao City when Rodrigo Duterte was mayor.

"De Lima faces unsubstantiated charges alleging that she received money from drug lords while serving as justice secretary," the Human Rights Watch said, taking note that two of the key witnesses in the cases against de Lima have retracted their testimony. The former senator has been acquitted in one case while two others remain pending.

Calls for her release were revived in October 2022 after she was held hostage at the Philippine National Police custodial center in Quezon City in an escape attempt by detainees. Police said she was not a target in the incident and that she was taken hostage by chance.

READ: What we know so far: Leila de Lima hostage-taking

"Human Rights Watch believes the Duterte administration was retaliating against her for investigating extrajudicial killings under Duterte’s anti-drug campaign," the rights group said. 

International concern

The HRW also highlighted that the global community, through several international bodies like the United Nations rights office and the European Parliament, have also voiced concerns over the human rights situation in the Philippines.

READ: ICC prosecutor says 'drug war' probe needed despite government arguments

This includes the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on reported rights violations in the country related to the "war on drugs" and the counter-insurgency campaign.

Meanwhile, the prosecutor's office at the International Criminal Court continues to push for an on-ground investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the anti-drug campaign.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla last year said the Philippines would update the ICC to show that "we are doing something on the problems we are supposed to solve on our own" and as a matter of courtesy.

The Philippines has invited UN special rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children, including child prostitution, child pornography, and other child sexual abuse material Mama Fatima Singhateh and special rapporteur on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan to make official visits.

Morris Tidball-Binz — a medical doctor from Chile who specializes in forensic science, human rights and humanitarian action and who is special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary killings — has also been invited to the Philippines, Remulla said in November 2022.

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