Senate bill seeks protection for human rights defenders

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 21) — A proposed measure seeking to protect human rights defenders (HRDs) and punish any threats against them was filed again at the Senate.

Senator Risa Hontiveros filed on Thursday Senate Bill No. 2447, or the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act, coinciding with the 51st anniversary of martial law where human rights activists were among those arrested.

"This bill seeks to guarantee the protection of the rights and fundamental freedoms of HRDs, specify the obligations of the State to ensure the enjoyment of these rights and freedoms, and impose appropriate sanctions to counter impunity," the bill's explanatory note read.

"The rights of HRDs must be fully recognized and the duties of public authorities be institutionalized. Human rights are fundamental anchors of our democratic society. The mission to protect those who defend our rights must persist," it added.

Among the rights and freedoms that the bill seeks to protect and promote for human rights defenders are the following:

- Right to form groups, associations, and organizations;

- Right to peaceful assembly;

- Right to seek, receive, and disseminate information;

- Right to privacy;

- Right to develop and advocate human rights ideas;

- Right to solicit, receive, and utilize resources;

- Right to access, communicate, and cooperate with international and regional human rights bodies and mechanisms;

- Right to effective remedy and full reparation;

- Freedom from intimidation and reprisal; and

- Freedom of movement.

The bill also obliges the government to ensure the safety of human rights defenders.

"Any public authority or private actor who is found guilty of committing intimidation or reprisal against a person on the grounds of or in connection with his or her status, work, activities as a human rights defender, shall be penalized under the appropriate provision/s of the Revised Penal Code, in addition to the administrative and/or civil sanctions that may be imposed considering the gravity of the offense, upon the discretion of the court or competent authority," the bill noted.

If enacted into law, the proposed measure prohibits public officials from "false, unfounded, and derogatory labeling of human rights defenders including identifying or tagging them as 'reds,' 'communists,' 'terrorists,' or 'enemies of the State.'"

The national government is also obliged to investigate whenever a human rights defender is reported missing, been killed, tortured, arbitrarily detained, or threatened.

Hontiveros and former senator Leila de Lima had filed a similar measure during the 18th Congress in 2019, but it remained at committee level.

Meanwhile, a version of the bill in the House of Representatives already hurdled the committee level last February. Two earlier versions of the bill were already approved on third reading by the lower chamber in the 17th and 18th Congress.