International

Attacks against lawyers in the Philippines further escalating

We've written to the president of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte. Attacks against lawyers in the Philippines continue to take place and killings have reached a record high since the start of President Duterte’s administration five years ago.

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Who we wrote to

Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines.

We wrote the letter jointly with Lawyers for Lawyers, a Dutch foundation that seeks to promote the proper functioning of the rule of law by pursuing freedom and independence of the legal profession.

What's the issue

More lawyers have been killed in the five years since President Duterte took office than under any other government in Philippine history.

The number of deaths of lawyers since 2016 has risen to 61 with local groups like the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG) claiming that over half of these deaths have been work-related. Lawyers involved in high-profile or human rights cases are especially at risk.

Prior to being attacked, an increasing number of lawyers were labelled as 'communist' or 'terrorist' by state agents and officials. This labelling, or 'red tagging',  takes place regardless of actual political beliefs or affiliations of the targeted individuals and is aimed at making them legitimate targets.

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that 'red-tagging' in the Philippines “has been a persistent and powerful threat to civil society and freedom of expression”.

This has been worsened by the recently adopted Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 which allows for the creation of a government-appointed Anti-Terrorism Council that is given vast powers, including the power to designate individuals and groups as terrorists without due process. 

Once people are designated as terrorists they can be arrested and detained without warrants or charges for up to 24 days.

What we asked for

We have urged the Government of the Philippines to:

  • investigate promptly, effectively, thoroughly, and independently all extrajudicial killings and attacks against lawyers, and other jurists, with the aim of identifying those responsible and bringing them to justice in proceedings that respect international fair trial standards
  • take all reasonable measures to guarantee the safety and physical integrity of lawyers, including the provision of adequate protection measures, in consultation with the persons concerned
  • create and fully support an independent, credible and impartial body, i.e. not under the control or the influence of the government, composed of members selected exclusively from nominees from lawyers organizations, civil society, the Church and the like in a transparent way, who are known for their human rights record, independency and integrity
  • consistently condemn all forms of threats and attacks against lawyers publicly, at all political levels and in strong terms
  • fully comply with and create awareness about the core values underlying the legal profession, amongst others by bringing the UN Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers to the attention of relevant stakeholders, especially members of the executive, police, and the military

What we've previously said

17 September 2019 – we wrote about the increasing attacks against lawyers in the Philippines and the oppressive working environment they’ve faced.

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