CHR calls for dialogue on HR defenders bill

Elizabeth Marcelo - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has called for a dialogue among stakeholders regarding House Bill 77 or the Human Rights Defenders’ Protection Act amid the opposition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) to the measure.

In a statement yesterday, the CHR reiterated its support for the passage and enactment of the bill “in view of the increasing reports of risks and dangers faced by human rights defenders, as well as the prevalence of impunity for violations and abuses against them.”

“The past years have been a testament to the need to protect human rights defenders. For standing up for the rights of the weak, vulnerable and the marginalized, they have often faced vilification, red-tagging, violence and death,” the CHR said.

“Instead of spreading fear, CHR believes that it would be more productive for stakeholders to have a dialogue with the advocates of the bill, human rights defenders as well as with the CHR, to eliminate any doubts and address misunderstanding on what the proposed legislation seeks to achieve,” the commission added.

The CHR issued the statement after the NTFC-ELCAC raised objections against the measure, saying its passage would protect the New People’s Army and other terrorist groups.

The NTFC-ELCAC, in a position paper, said the bill’s “amorphous and overbroad definition of a ‘human rights defender’ can qualify almost any criminal, rebel, terrorist or enemy of the state as a ‘human rights defender’.”

The bill, if passed into law, will deter law enforcers in combatting terrorism, according to NTFC-ELCAC.

“It will make the anti-terrorism and anti-money laundering laws mere toothless paper tigers,” the NTFC-ELCAC said.

“The bill would provide avenue and refuge for criminals to counter the state’s action to bring them to justice,” it added.

Last month, the House committee on human rights approved the bill, which is now up for plenary deliberations.

The CHR maintained that all agencies of the government have the legal and moral obligation to ensure protection of human rights defenders as “they contribute to the development of the country in a democratic and peaceful way.”

The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, which operates in at least 23 countries in Asia, had stated that the “Philippines is one of the deadliest countries in Asia for human rights defenders.”

The organization said that between 2017 and 2018, under the Duterte administration, it documented at least 59 cases of attacks, intimidation and harassment against human rights defenders in the Philippines.

Of these cases, 39 or 66 percent were incidents of killings, mostly targeting land and environmental rights defenders as well as journalists, the FORUM-ASIA said.

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