The Philippines/USA: Letter to President Duterte Concerning Attacks on Legal Professionals

August 28, 2019

New York City Bar

Re:  Continuing Attacks on Judges, Prosecutors, Lawyers, and Other Legal Professionals

Dear Mr. President:

The New York City Bar Association writes to express its profound and ongoing concern in the wake of violent attacks on judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and other legal professionals in the Philippines.

The Association is a 148-year-old organization of more than 24,000 members in New York City, throughout the United States, and in more than fifty countries around the globe. Our members include judges, prosecutors, defense counsel, government lawyers, and public interest/non-governmental organization practitioners, as well as legal academics and attorneys representing nearly every major law firm and corporation in the United States. The Association has a long and distinguished history of promoting the rule of law and human rights (including the rights of legal professionals to fulfill their professional obligations), chiefly through the Association’s Committee on International Human Rights, together with its Committee on Asian Affairs (and its other regional committees), as well as its Task Force on the Independence of Lawyers and Judges.

Under the Duterte Administration, legal professionals—which include judges, prosecutors, lawyers, and paralegals—have been harassed, assaulted, and assassinated in connection with your war on drugs (known as Oplan Tokhang).[1] As discussed further in this letter, attacks on Philippine lawyers often correlate with, among others, their representation of clients who are charged with being members of dangerous drug cartels, attorneys’ accusations of corruption against the police and army, and for promoting due process rights.  Similarly, prosecutors and judges are attacked in connection to their decisions involving prosecutorial discretion and the exercise of due process rights, among other issues.

Your Administration’s tacit (often explicit) support for these attacks, your failure to condemn the attacks, and your failure to properly investigate the attacks and bring the perpetrators to justice have fostered a culture of impunity throughout the Philippines.[2] In short, as outlined in greater detail below, your Administration is waging not only a war on drugs, but also a war on legal professionals and human rights defenders, and a war on the justice system and the Rule of Law itself.

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