Frustrated with the lack of government measures to address the problem of killings and other rights abuses, lawyers’ groups resolved to seek the help of the United Nations to curb the continuing attacks against Filipino lawyers and judges.
BY RONALYN V. OLEA
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Frustrated with the lack of government measures to address the problem of killings and other rights abuses, lawyers’ groups resolved to seek the help of the United Nations (UN) to curb the continuing attacks against lawyers and judges.
In a press conference in Quezon City, Nov. 12, the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and the Counsels for the Defense of Liberties (CODAL) announced that they would file a complaint against the Philippine government for failing to protect lawyers and judges who are under attack.
NUPL Secretary General Neri Javier Colmenares said, “The Philippines has become one of the most dangerous places for lawyers and judges in the world since there are very few countries where 37 lawyers and judges have been brutally murdered in a span of seven years, and, where the real perpetrators have not been held accountable for these crimes.”
Based the groups’ monitoring and documentation, 22 lawyers have been killed since 2001 and 15 judges have been murdered since 1999.
The lawyers’ groups noted that there was a sharp 68 percent increase in the number of killings of lawyers since 2001, from 15 victims in 2006 to 22 by 2008, and a 66 percent increase in the number of killings of judges from ten in 2006 to 15 by 2008.
Colmenares said, “Impunity still exists. The Philippine government is clearly reneging on its obligations under international law.”
The NUPL said it would sustain its representations with UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers Leandro Despouy who has already conveyed his request to be allowed to visit the Philippines.
“We strongly urge the Arroyo government to allow the participation of the UN by officially granting the long-standing request of Mr. Despouy to visit the country without which the UN Special Rapporteur would not be able to officially conduct the fact finding mission,” Colmenares said.
Edre Olalia, NUPL deputy secretary general for international solidarity, said Despouy’s request is one of the earliest requests made by UN representatives to visit the Philippines. He said only two out of 11 UN special rapporteurs have so far been granted permission to visit the country.
Human rights lawyers
Colmenares said, “The Arroyo government has not only failed to protect lawyers and judges from attacks; it has, in fact, committed attacks themselves, especially against human rights lawyers critical of the government’s human rights record.”
Olalia said that out of 49 lawyers and judges under attack, 41 are human rights lawyers. Of the 22 lawyers and judges killed, six were involved in human rights advocacy.
Colmenares said, “The attacks against human rights lawyers are being perpetrated by a government antagonistic to the fact that these lawyers provide services to victims of human rights violations.
Olalia further said, “If you attack or kill lawyers, especially those who defend the people’s basic rights, then who would defend the defenders?”