UN special rapporteur: End attacks, stigmatization vs. human rights defenders in PH

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Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on the situation on Human Rights defenders

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 19) — A United Nations special rapporteur has called on the government to stop attacks on human rights defenders (HRD) and that "public stigmatization" on them cease "immediately."

Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on the situation on Human Rights defenders, released on Wednesday a report on the situation of HRDs in 140 countries.

On issues involving HRDs in the country, Forst said in his report the government should "end immediately all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances."

"The stigmatization, defamation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and criminalization of defenders is a key area of concern," Forst said.

He specifically mentioned human rights workers are vilified publicly, "subject to smear campaigns and online harassment," and government officials have tried to connect them to the illegal drugs trade, as well as communist or terrorist groups.

"Additionally, human rights defenders have been subject to arbitrary arrest and prosecution, including over trumped up charges. Human rights defenders and political dissidents also report some form of surveillance by law enforcement personnel," Forst added.

Forst also mentioned the risks female HRDs face and how these are related to the "promotion and reinforcement of misogynistic and hetero-patriarchal norms."

He pointed out that public stigmatization of HRDs could cause attacks against them, and this should come to an end as well.

Forst recommended that the work HRDs do should be publicly recognized to highlight that what they did was legitimate and important.

The special rapporteur pointed out while there may be legal means to fight against these issues under the Constitution, the impartiality of the country's judicial system has come into question, citing the case of former Chief Justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

Forst said HRDs should be protected, adding the government should amp up its support for UN Human Rights Commission.

"The State should develop protection mechanisms that protect and support human rights defenders... The government should recognize the specific needs and circumstances of groups of defenders facing high risks, such as women human rights defenders, indigenous human rights defenders, land and environmental rights defenders, and journalists," he said.

Forst's recommendations include the review, amendment and/or repeal of laws that restrict freedom of expression and opinion, and that government should refrain from employing counter-insurgency measures, which result in extra-judicial killings.

"The government must reaffirm its commitment to the rule of law and ensure that human rights violations are properly investigated, including those allegedly committed by state actors, to make the perpetrators accountable and mitigate the culture of impunity," he said.