UN human rights panel wary over PH’s anti-terrorism law

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, November 6) — The United Nations Human Rights Committee is concerned over the country’s controversial Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and has flagged some of its provisions.

In its concluding observation during its 136th session, the UNHRC pointed out that the law lacked “meaningful consultations” when it was adopted and has “overbroad and vague definitions of terrorism.”

In calling for a review and amendment of the anti-terrorism law, the committee said, “In doing so, it should ensure participatory consultations process with relevant stakeholders, including the Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations.”

The Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, which was signed into law by former President Rodrigo Duterte in July 2020, repealed the Human Security Act of 2007.

But last year, the Supreme Court voided a part of Section 4 of the measure for "being overbroad and violative of freedom of expression." The said part would have considered protest or dissent as terrorism if it had intent to cause harm.

With a 9-6 vote, the justices also declared the second part of Section 25 as unconstitutional, which would have allowed the Anti-Terrorism Council to adopt requests for designations by other jurisdictions or supranational jurisdictions.

The human rights panel also called out the warrantless arrests, prolonged detention, surveillance, and compiling and publishing personal data of individuals suspected as terrorists.

The committee is also concerned that the controversial measure is being used to “legitimize the targeting of government critics, human rights defenders and journalists, including through ‘red-tagging,’ and consequent chilling effects on freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association.”

With these concerns, the UNHRC told the government to provide suspects or anyone charged with terrorist acts or related crimes “with all appropriate legal safeguards, particularly the right to be informed of the charges against them, to be promptly brought before a judge, and to have access to legal counsel.”

The body also said the Commission on Human Rights should regularly monitor all detention areas where individuals are detained under the anti-terrorism law.

During the session in Geneva last month, Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla justified the red-tagging of government critics, saying they should be able to “take it” if they can “dish it out.”