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Philippines: UN experts demand immediate release of ex-lawmaker Leila de Lima

16 June 2023

GENEVA (16 June 2023) – UN experts* today expressed “grave disappointment” after a Philippine court denied bail to former senator Leila de Lima, prolonging her six-year detention even after key witnesses withdrew evidence against her.

“We have long called for the immediate release of Leila de Lima,” the experts said. “The decision to deny bail comes after more than six years of arbitrary detention. It is high time for the administration of President Marcos Jr. to close this case once and for all, provide compensation and other reparations, and investigate the circumstances that allowed this to happen in the first place.”

Leila de Lima, also a former chairperson of the National Commission on Human Rights, from 2008 to 2010 and Secretary of Justice, from 2010 to 2015, has been in pre-trial detention since 2017. In August 2018, the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention found that her detention was arbitrary and that her deprivation of liberty was a result of her personal beliefs and public statements regarding extrajudicial killings in the Philippines during the administration of then-President Rodrigo Duterte. In September 2020 she filed a bill to the Senate to stop extra-judicial killings, ensure an independent investigation of summary killings and provide compensation for victims.

UN experts previously welcomed de Lima’s acquittal, on 17 February 2021, in one of the three cases against her. The former Senator was acquitted in the second case in May 2023, after key witnesses withdraw their evidence.

In a 2021 report, the Working Group said: “According to international human rights law, personal liberty is the principle, and detention should be the exception rather than the rule.” The experts stressed that international standards also require that non-custodial measures be prioritised for women.

“We are deeply concerned that after six years of arbitrary detention, Leila de Lima will now continue to be detained after her bail application was denied on 7 June 2023,” the UN experts said.

In its 2018 opinion, the UN Working Group found that Senator de Lima’s detention resulted from her exercise of the right to political participation, freedom of opinion and expression, thought and conscience, and was imposed through a process that did not respect the basic guarantees of a fair trial.

*The experts: Priya Gopalan (Chair-Rapporteur), Matthew Gillett(Vice-Chair on Communications), Ganna Yudkivska (Vice-Chair on Follow-Up), Miriam Estrada-Castillo, and Mumba Malila, Working Group on arbitrary detention; Irene Khan, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression; Reem Alsalem, Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, its causes and consequences; Morris Tidball-Binz, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Dorothy Estrada Tanck (Chair), Ivana Radačić (Vice-Chair), Elizabeth Broderick, Meskerem Geset Techane and Melissa Upreti, Working Group on discrimination against women and girls; Margaret Satterthwaite, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers.

The Special Rapporteurs, Independent Experts and Working Groups are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

UN Human Rights, Country Page – Philippines

For further information and media inquiries, please contact Lucie Viersma ([email protected]) of [email protected].

For media inquiries related to other UN independent experts, please contact Maya Derouaz ([email protected]) or Dharisha Indraguptha ([email protected])

Follow news related to the UN’s independent human rights experts on Twitter @UN_SPExperts.

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