DETAINED senator Leila de Lima renewed her call for greater protection for human rights defenders in the Philippines as the threat number of attacks against continues to rise under President Rodrigo Duterte.
“I find it very urgent that we come forward and claim our right, as human rights defenders, to be recognized and protected,” said De Lima, former chief of the Commission on Human Rights who is currently detained on drug charges.
“Not for our personal sake, but for the sake of our dignity as a people,” said her statement, as reported in Politiko.
The creation of a human rights court and jail terms of 12 to 20 years for rights violators are among the measures proposed under the “Human Rights Defenders Act of 2018,” which the senator is pushing to be fast-tracked.
Her call comes after Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque told reporters that human rights groups are being used by drug lords to fight against the Duterte administration.
“The attacks against the President’s war on drugs have been vicious and nonstop. We, therefore, do not discount the possibility that some human rights groups have become unwitting tools of drug lords to hinder the strides made by the administration,” Roque said at a press conference on March 26.
De Lima called the accusation “patently baseless propaganda” in a statement released on her Facebook page on Monday.
Human Rights Watch called the claims “a sinister veiled threat” and accused the government of “intimidation tactics” against rights groups.
De Lima has repeatedly underscored the importance of establishing effective legal remedy for the violation of the rights of human rights defenders. In passing the Bill, she hopes to institutionalise the enforcement of state obligations to protect those at risk of both physical and verbal attack, including all forms of media and by both public and private actors.
“The obsessive attacks against these concepts and principles, led by no less than the President himself, have rendered us, human rights defenders, vulnerable and our work extremely difficult and dangerous,” she said.
De Lima, a fierce critic of Duterte, has been detained since Feb 24, 2017 for her alleged involvement in the illegal drugs trade at the New Bilibid Prison when she was justice minister in the previous administration.
The senator strongly denies the charges and maintains they are politically motivated. Amnesty International has listed her as a “Human Rights Defenders Under Threat” after, they claim, Duterte made her a “target of his divisive rhetoric.”