Philippines: UN experts welcome release of former senator Leila De Lima on bail

Geneva, November 17,  2023.- UN experts* today welcomed the release of former senator Leila De Lima from prison after nearly seven years of incarceration in the Philippines.

“We welcome the news that a court in the Philippines has granted bail to former human rights commissioner, justice minister, and senator, Leila de Lima after years of injustice and incarceration due to seemingly politically motivated allegations,” the experts said.

“Leila De Lima has a long-standing reputation as a human rights defender seeking accountability for extrajudicial killings and other cases of gross human rights violations in the Philippines,” they said, noting that she had spent 10 years investigating «death squad» executions. She was elected to the Senate in 2016 but served five years of her six-year term behind bars. She has also been an outspoken critic of the death penalty, proposing a bill to increase the length of life imprisonment in the country instead of reintroducing it.

In 2009, as Chair of the Commission on Human Rights, De Lima launched an investigation into extrajudicial killings in Davao, including the alleged involvement of Duterte, then-Mayor of Davao City. As a Senator in 2016, De Lima called for an end to extrajudicial killings and pushed for Senate investigations into those already committed.

“De Lima was persecuted because of her fierce activism against extrajudicial killings, particularly those motivated and orchestrated in the context of the ‘war on drugs,” the experts said.

UN independent experts (2017) and the Working Group on arbitrary detention (2018) expressed concern about De Lima’s detention , noting that the drug charges against her were likely politically motivated and could be a form of reprisal for her criticism of the Government’s ‘war on drugs’.

The experts also expressed concern that De Lima’s detention was demonstrative of a widespread issue of increased vulnerability of women human rights defenders. The Working Group on discrimination against women and girls and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders have, in separate reports, previously highlighted the dire circumstances of women human rights defenders, also noting allegations of arbitrary arrests and judicial harassment in the Philippines.

They emphasised the Government’s responsibility to respect and protect women human rights defenders’ rights to life, liberty, security, and expression.

“While we welcome the release on bail of former senator De Lima, we urge the Government of the Philippines to address the thousands of outstanding cases of extrajudicial killings, especially in the context of the ‘war on drugs’,” the experts said.

“The Government must take all measures to ensure that investigations comply with international standards, including the revised United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention and Investigation of Extra-Legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions (Minnesota Protocol), and that perpetrators are brought to justice,” they said.

The experts offered continued assistance in building forensic capacity under the UN Joint Programme for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Philippines.

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