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Support PH women who defend human rights, says UN rapporteur

/ 07:25 AM February 19, 2019
Support PH women who defend human rights, says UN rapporteur

Michel Forst —UN PHOTO

The UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders has cited Sen. Leila de Lima, former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno and Rappler CEO Maria Ressa as among the prominent women leaders in the Philippines whose voices are being silenced in a government crackdown on dissent.

In his report to the Human Rights Council’s 40th session to be held later this month, Special Rapporteur Michel Forst called for more support and protection for women who defend human rights, saying women have played a key role in the furtherance of human rights.

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But they also continue to face systemic discrimination, marginalization, and repression, Forst said in his report.

The report named De Lima, Sereno and Ressa as human rights defenders in prominent and leadership positions who are facing charges and risks.

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“Women leaders who represent their groups and speak out on issues tend to be targeted for their visibility—not only to silence them but also to discourage broader dissent,” it said.

It noted that De Lima had been in detention since February 2017 “for denouncing President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which has led to violence, extrajudicial killings and human rights violations.”

According to the report, De Lima is detained for “politically motivated, nonbailable charges” for violating the country’s illegal drugs law.

She has been subject to restrictions in detention, it added.

De Lima is one of President Duterte’s fiercest critics and has led investigations into the killings that took place on his watch as mayor of Davao City and in his brutal war on drugs.

Unconstitutional decision

In the case of Sereno, the report said she was unseated “by a Supreme Court decision widely considered unconstitutional.”

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It said Sereno had spoken against the President’s policies on drugs and martial law declaration, while the President pushed for her resignation and then her impeachment.

The President even ordered Congress to remove her, it said.

Ressa, on the other hand, was indicted on tax evasion charges “in what is considered political persecution in response to critical reporting on the government,” the report said.

There was no immediate comment from Malacañang on Monday.

In the past, it rejected such statements from UN officials and Western governments as meddling in Philippine affairs.

The President had also threatened to arrest UN special rapporteurs who would come to the Philippines to investigate human rights violations, including the thousands of killings in his war on drugs.

The report recognized the significance of women in promoting human rights worldwide.

Support for defenders

But because of the way their actions and aspects of their identities are perceived, they continue to face systemic discrimination, marginalization, and repression, it said.

“The special rapporteur calls on all stakeholders to work together to ensure that women defenders are supported and strengthened to promote and protect human rights,” it said.

Among the report’s recommendations is to protect the rights of women who defend human rights by taking a public stand against all state and nonstate actors who violate their rights, and investigating these instances.

It also recommended that the protection of these women  in online spaces be made a priority, and that laws, policies and practices that protect their right to privacy and protect them from libel and hate speech be adopted.

Earlier, Forst asked the Philippine government to cease the public stigmatization of human rights defenders, warning that this could encourage people to act against them.

Instead, it should develop mechanisms to support the human rights defenders, he said.

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TAGS: Leila de Lima, Maria Lourdes Sereno, Maria Ressa, Michel Forst, women's rights defenders
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