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UN expert urges Congress to prioritize law protecting human rights defenders

UNITED Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Mary Lawlor called on the Philippine Congress on Thursday to prioritize the passage of a measure that will protect human rights defenders.

“Enacting legislation at the national level is an important means by which States can recognise the work of human rights defenders and create robust mechanisms for their protection, and I urge all members of the Congress to get behind this praiseworthy initiative,” Ms. Lawlor said in a statement published on the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) website.

“By prioritising legislation to protect human rights defenders, the Philippines would… send a clear message about their willingness to uphold their human rights obligations,” Ms. Lawlor added.

House Bill No. 9199 or the Human Rights Defenders Act, sponsored by Albay 1st District Representative Edcel C. Lagman, was approved by the House of Representatives in June 2019.

The Senate version, however, under Senate Bill No. 179 filed by Senator Leila M. de Lima has been pending at the committee on justice and human rights since February 2018.

Under the House bill, a human rights defender is defined as “any person who, individually or in association with others, acts or seeks to act to protect, promote or strive for the protection and realization of human rights and fundamental freedoms and welfare of the people.”

It grants human rights defenders a total of 17 rights and freedoms. These include the right to promote and protect human rights and fundamental freedoms; right to solicit, receive, and utilize resources; right to seek, receive, and disseminate information; right to develop and advocate for human rights ideas; and right to access, communicate, and cooperate with international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms.

The proposed law also requires the government to ensure human rights defenders are “able to undertake their activities and work in a safe and enabling environment free from restriction.” — Bianca Angelica D. Añago

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