MANILA - A working group of the United Nations Human Rights Council’s (UNHRC) has asked the Philippine government to release Sen. Leila de Lima, who it said was detained due to her remarks about the administration's war on drugs, her camp said Wednesday.
The Working Group on Arbitrary Detention (WGAD) also referred the lawmaker's case to the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, the Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequences and the Special Rapporteur on the independence of judges and lawyers.
It has adopted an opinion that the legislator's detention was "arbitrary" and violated various provisions of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.
The opinion, published on the website of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and shared by De Lima's staff, said the panel requested the Philippine government to "take the steps necessary to remedy the situation of Ms. De Lima without delay and bring it into conformity with the relevant international norms."
"The Working Group considers that, taking into account all the circumstances of the case, the appropriate remedy would be to release Ms. De Lima immediately and accord her an enforceable right to compensation and other reparations, in accordance with
international law, including her reinstatement in the positions from which she was ousted," it read.
The panel also wants the government to ensure "full and independent investigation of the circumstances surrounding the arbitrary deprivation of liberty of Ms. De Lima and to take appropriate measures against those responsible for the violation of her rights."
De Lima has been detained since February 2017 for drug-related charges. She has repeatedly denied these allegations, but the Supreme Court voted to keep her in jail.
WORKING GROUP'S FINDINGS
The UNHRC working group said De Lima's detention "resulted from her personal conviction and public statements regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines" and "of the exercise of her right to take part in government and the conduct of public affairs."
It also found that the Duterte government, including the President himself "has shown unfavorable intentions" towards De Lima, as made apparent by his and his allies' statements against her.
Noting that De Lima had been chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, Department of Justice secretary, and senator, the panel said the lawmaker "consistently pursued an investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings by death squads, first in Davao under then-Mayor Duterte, and later nationally under his presidency."
With these, the panel said "no trial of Ms. De Lima should have taken place," but since it did, the group found that "the violations of Ms.De Lima’s rights to a fair trial are of such gravity as to render her deprivation of liberty arbitrary."
Officers of the court and the law must "conduct criminal investigations in an independent and impartial manner, and respect the presumption of innocence," the panel said.
“The recent attacks on the independence of the judiciary … was sending a chilling message to other judges," it said, citing as well the ouster of Maria Lourdes Sereno as the country's chief justice.
The group said De Lima’s deprivation of liberty constitutes "discrimination based on political or other opinion, as well as her status as a human rights defender and as a woman," as her "political views and convictions are clearly at the center of the present case and that the authorities have displayed an attitude towards her that can only be characterized as targeted and discriminatory."
The UN panel said it has transmitted its findings on De Lima’s case to the Philippine government in February 2018 and asked for its comments but it "regrets" that the government has not replied.
- with Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News