UN rights chief asks Duterte not to enact anti-terrorism bill

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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet (L) and President Rodrigo Duterte (R)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 30) — The anti-terrorism bill has again been thrust into the global spotlight as the United Nations’ human rights chief advised President Rodrigo Duterte against signing the controversial measure into law.

During the 44th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said the measure, which was passed by the Philippines’ Congress and is now awaiting Duterte’s enactment, “heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.”

“Human rights defenders are routinely smeared as terrorists, enemies of the State and even viruses akin to COVID-19,” Bachelet said.

She noted that 248 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists have been killed from 2015 to 2019.

“The law could have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities,” Bacehelet said.

“So I would urge the President to refrain from signing the law, and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism – but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy,” she said.

She stressed her office is ready to assist Duterte in such review.

The anti-terrorism bill, which is expected to be signed by Duterte, will repeal Human Security Act of 2007, giving more surveillance powers to government forces. Among its contentious provisions is allowing suspected terrorists to be arrested without warrant and detained without charges for up to 24 days.

Critics of the measure say it relaxes safeguards on human rights and is open to abuse. Lawmakers who have authored and sponsored the measure, however, said it is actually at par with the laws of other countries and it would not be used against law-abiding citizens.

READ: Cayetano to anti-terrorism bill critics: We can amend or repeal law if you're right