U.N. expert to PH gov’t: Stop stigma against human rights defenders

Jodesz Gavilan
United Nations Special Rapporteur Michel Forst says 'public stigmatization of human rights defenders...can incite perpetrators to act against them'

STOP PERSECUTION. Cordillera human rights defenders march to press the government to improve its human rights records. File photo by Mau Victa

MANILA, Philippines – A United Nations (UN) expert on Tuesday, December 18, urged the Philippine government to stop the “public stigmatization” of human rights defenders and immediately address the worrisome rise of violence against them.

In a recently published world report, UN Special Rapporteur Michel Forst highlighted that “the stigmatization, defamation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest, and criminalization of defenders is a key area of concern” in the Philippines. 

“The rapporteur urges the government to cease immediately the public stigmatization of human rights defenders, which can incite perpetrators to act against them, and instead to publicly recognize the legitimacy and importance of their work,” the report said.

To address the rising trend of violence against defenders, Forst urged the government to: 

  • Review, amend, and repeal laws that restrict several rights, including the right to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and association
  • End counter-insurgency measures which lead to extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and human rights violations
  • Ensure that law enforcement officials are trained and equipped to respect and protect human rights
  • Strengthen witness protection mechanisms 
  • Reaffirm its commitment to the rule of law and ensure that human rights violations are properly investigated

Human rights organizations in the Philippines have earned the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte amid consistent criticism of his violent anti-illegal drugs campaign. The President, in the past, openly threatened defenders, even linking them to drug lords(READ: Powering through a crisis: Defending human rights under Duterte)

A recent UN report cited the Philippines as among the countries whose government place human rights defenders and activists under “an alarming and shameful level of harsh reprisals and intimidation.”

These threats result in real life actions, according to various groups, as many human rights advocates have been subjected to on-ground harassment, cases, and even killed in line with their work. 

Karapatan, a human rights group, has recorded 84 killings of human rights defenders under the Duterte administration since July 2016.

Groups have also labelled the Duterte administration as the regime that “demonized” human rights advocacy. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.