Int’l lawyers’ groups, legal professionals ask Duterte: Protect Filipino lawyers
MANILA, Philippines — Several international lawyer organizations and members of the legal profession have called President Rodrigo Duterte to stop attacks and extrajudicial killings against Filipino lawyers.
In a petition dated September 17, several international groups and individuals in the legal profession sought an investigation into extrajudicial killings against lawyers and jurists. They also asked to hold those responsible behind the crimes accountable.
According to the petitioners, at least 41 lawyers and prosecutors were killed between July 2016 and September 2019, including 24 practicing lawyers.
At least five active and retired judges were also murdered since July 2016, the petitioners added.
“Lawyers are also harassed and intimidated. They are subjected to (death) threats, surveillance, labeling, and other forms of attacks. Most killings and attacks of lawyers took place as a result of discharging professional duties or are believed to be work-related,” the petitioners said.
The petitioners noted that at risk were lawyers who represented individuals accused of terrorist or drug-related crimes, or government critics such as journalists, political opposition leaders, and human rights defenders.
“Lawyers providing legal representations in high-profile cases impacting established interests, such as land reform, or lawyers taking part in public discussion about human rights issues, also face reprisals,” they added.
Threats, labels, and killings
The petitioners also noted the threats given and labels attached to lawyers in the country, particularly those who “have spoken out against the administration’s policies.”
The petitioners said among the labels given by state agents to some lawyers include “communists” or “terrorists.”
Further, they added that the practice of labeling and the culture of impunity “was identified by national and international fact-finding missions as one of the main root causes of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the past and continues unabated.”
“The attacks against and extra-judicial killings of lawyers and the impunity shielding perpetrators impair the ability of lawyers to provide effective legal representation, make lawyers increasingly wary of working on sensitive cases, and consequently severely undermine the proper functioning of the rule of law and the adequate protection of rights, including the right to remedies and fair trial,” the petitioners said.
Citing the United Nations Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers, the petitioners said that States should ensure that lawyers should be able to perform their profession “without intimidation, hindrance, harassment or improper interference.”
“The Basic Principles affirm that lawyers, like other citizens, are entitled to freedom of expression and assembly. The duty to respect and guarantee these freedoms forms an integral part of the Philippines’ international legal obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” they said.
Aside from the probe into the extra-judicial killings, the petitioners also asked the government to take all measures available to guarantee the safety of lawyers, as well as the consistent public condemnation of threats and attacks against lawyers.
The petition was signed by lawyers’ group Lawyers for Lawyers as well as 151 international and domestic bar associations, other lawyers’ organizations and legal professionals from 49 countries around the world./ac
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