UN expert presses PH gov’t to protect rights defenders, probe missing community organizer
MANILA, Philippines–United Nations Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders Mary Lawlor has urged the Philippine government to investigate the disappearance of a community organizer in Central Luzon even as she underscored the need to pass the Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill.
Speaking at a side event during the 52nd Regular Season of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Lawlor cited the risks human rights defenders face, including attacks, killings, judicial harassment, arbitrary detention, and stigmatization campaigns in the Philippines.
She also expressed concerns about the country’s Anti-Terrorism Act and its overly-broad definitions of terrorism, which she says compound the precarious situation of human rights defenders.
The Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill proposes the recognition of human rights defenders, human rights organizations and their work, and the creation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Committee in line with the Human Rights Defenders Declaration.
The bill aims to protect individuals and civil society from discrimination directed at religious and other minorities, human rights defenders, and political opponents.
Lawlor’s call to investigate Abua’s disappearance is in response to the Central Luzon farmers and indigenous people’s organizer’s disappearance in November 2021. Lawlor said that Abua was last seen on November 6, 2021, and urged the Philippine government to find out what happened to him.
The side event was organized by prominent international human rights NGOs led by CIVICUS and featured speakers including Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Chairperson and International Association of Democratic Lawyers Transitional President Edre Olalia, National Council of Churches in the Philippines Secretary for Faith, Witness and Service Mervin Sol Toquero, and Cebu abduction survivor and Alliance of Concerned Teachers organizer April Dyan Gumanao.
Palabay, Olalia, Toquero, and Gumanao are part of the delegation of Filipino human rights defenders at the ongoing UNHRC Session, which is preparing for the adoption of the recommendations made by UN member states during the last Universal Periodic Review on the Philippines last November.
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