New Zealand Law Society - Philippine Government urged to act on lawyer deaths

Philippine Government urged to act on lawyer deaths

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The Netherlands-based Lawyers for Lawyers organisation has urged Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte to act to stop attacks against and extra-judicial killings of lawyers.

Lawyers for Lawyers says at least 45 lawyers, prosecutors and retired judges have been killed in the Philippines since President Duterte took office in July 2016.

In a letter to the President, the organisation says it is deeply concerned about the increasing attacks against lawyers, the labelling of lawyers as "enemy of the State", and the oppressive working environment they face since the start of his administration.

"We have reason to believe that these attacks are connected to their legitimate activities and professional duties as lawyers," it says.

The letter says the attacks against lawyers, as well as prosecutors, judges and the extrajudicial killings of other human rights defenders in the Philippines during the past three years have occurred within the context of the so-called ‘war on drugs’ and are being carried out across the country in an apparent climate of institutional impunity.

"In addition to being killed, lawyers are harassed and intimidated. They have been threatened, discredited or subjected to surveillance or prosecution on fabricated charges. According to our information, various lawyers have received (death) threats for handling cases of political prisoners, suspected rebels, environmentalists, and suspected poor drug users or suspected drug dealers.

"Prior to being attacked, some lawyers were labeled as ‘communist’ or ‘terrorist’ by state agents, because they were identified with their clients or their clients’ causes as a result of performing their professional duties. State agents have also indicated that lawyers handling drugs cases hinder your administration’s ‘war on drugs’."

Lawyers for Lawyers says the attacks against and extra-judicial killings of lawyers and the impunity shielding perpetrators impair the ability of lawyers to provide effective legal representation, make lawyers increasingly wary of working on sensitive cases, and consequently severely undermine the proper functioning of the rule of law and the adequate protection of rights, including the right to remedies and fair trial.