HomeCommentaryDrop perjury case against human rights defenders

Drop perjury case against human rights defenders

International rights bodies call on the Philippine government to drop the charges and stop the attacks on independent civil society voices

UN human rights rapporteur Mary Lawler and various human rights groups denounced the perjury charges filed against the Rural Missionaries of the Philippines, Karapatan, and Gabriela officers.

Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, called on Philippine authorities to “stop filing countersuits against human rights defenders for seeking legal protection from threats.”

“The perjury case brought by the government may also be a form of retaliation for the human rights activities of these local Human Rights Defenders,” said Lawlor.

“We have seen in recent years that many defenders have been dragged before the courts, smeared and tagged and murdered in the Philippines. This intimidation should stop.”

Lawlor added that “harassment and threats can be precursors to physical attacks as they make defenders more vulnerable and isolated.”

“I urge the authorities in the Philippines to stop the targeting of Human Rights Defenders and instead promote and protect their work,” Lawlor added.

Other international rights groups — Viva Salud, Asia Pacific Women Law and Development, Action Solidarite Tiers Monde (ASTM/Third World Solidarity Action), and the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines — have joined the call on the Philippine government to junk the perjury suit.

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Viva Salud, a Belgian health and development NGO, supports Lawlor’s observation, stating that the perjury case “is evidently a retaliatory act” after the groups included former National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon as a respondent in a protection order filed before the Supreme Court against increasing attack, intimidation, and red-tagging by the government and security forces.

ASTM, an organization whose mandate is to strengthen the capacity of civil society to realize human rights, finds intolerable the world trend of using judicial and administrative harassment against civil society.

APWLD said that the filing of the perjury case “clearly intended to harass and persecute Women Human Rights Defenders and political activists in the Philippines.”

It called on the the Philippine judiciary to immediately dismiss the charges against Karapatan, RMP, and Gabriela.

It said the Philippine government should immediately stop any act of violence, intimidation, and harassment against women human rights defenders and political activists and ensure the safety and security of those who have been targeted for their human rights work through an effective legal and policy framework and to “submit to an international independent human investigation on the human rights situation in the Philippines; and hold all state and non-state actors responsible for human rights violations accountable.”

The perjury charge according to APWLD “goes against the Philippine government’s international obligations, particularly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which the Philippines is a party, and the UN General Assembly Resolution on Promotion of the Declaration on the Right and Responsibility of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms.”

All States are called upon to “promote, translate and give full effect to this Declaration by taking appropriate, robust and practical steps to protect women human rights defenders.”

ASTM, an organization whose mandate is to strengthen the capacity of civil society to realize human rights, finds intolerable the world trend of using judicial and administrative harassment against civil society.

It calls on the Philippine government to condemn the series of vilification and smear campaigns against Karapatan, RMP, and Gabriela and other organizations.

It said that the government should “prioritize the enactment and full implementation of a Human Rights Defenders Protection Bill that will give legal recognition and safeguard rights defenders in the conduct of their work.:

ICHRP in a statement “strongly condemns the ongoing harassment and protests the red tagging” of the organizations.”

Karapatan is one of the leading independent voices on human rights in the Philippines. It is at the forefront in fighting rights abuses and is widely recognized by the international community for its capable and determined defense of human rights despite the challenges of doing advocacy in the Philippines.

In June 2021, the US-based Human Rights First presented Karapatan with the William D. Zabel Human Rights Award for the Advancement of People’s Rights.

In December 2021, Germany and France awarded Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay the Franco-German Prize for Human Rights and Rule of Law for her tireless dedication to the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines.

RMP is a national organization of women and men – religious, priests and lay – who dedicate their lives to educating and working with the rural poor farmers and agricultural workers for genuine agrarian reform, the fisherfolk for genuine aquatic reform, and the indigenous peoples for land and self-determination, towards attainment of the fullness of life, justice, freedom and integrity of creation.

Gabriela is a grassroots-based alliance of more than 200 organizations, institutions, desks and programs in the Philippines with chapters in eight countries with the main objective of helping educate and empower women to fight for their rights and interests through collective action.

All these international rights bodies call on the Philippine government to drop the charges and stop the attacks on important independent civil society voices.

Serious violation of human rights in the Philippines may be read in the report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Ms Michelle Bachelet in June 2020, and the three reports by the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (INVESTIGATE PH) in 2020.

Edita Burgos is a doctor of education and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites. Gunmen — believed to be soldiers — abducted her son Jonas Burgos in Manila in April 2007. He is still missing.

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