The Observatory has received information about a wave of arbitrary arrests targeting lawyers in Myanmar. According to the information received, between May 24 and June 10, 2021, the military junta’s security forces arbitrarily arrested and detained five lawyers who provided legal defense to protesters and other individuals arrested following the February 1 coup d’état. Four of the five lawyers have been charged with “incitement”, under Article 505(a) of the Penal Code .
On June 10, 2021, Nilar and Hpone Myat Thu, were arrested in the border town of Myawaddy, Kayin [Karen] State, while they were attempting to cross into Thailand. They appeared in court a day after their arrest and, at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, were being held at Myawaddy’s central police station. The next hearing in their case is scheduled for June 25, 2021. The “incitement” charges against the two stem from their defense of political prisoners, including Kayin State’s ousted Chief Minister Nan Khin Htwe Myint and Hpa-An Technical High School Principal Cho Yu Mon, who were arrested after the February 1 coup for taking part in peaceful anti-junta protests.
On June 2, 2021, Thet Htun Oo, a pro-bono lawyer and Central Executive Committee member of the Independent Lawyers’ Association of Myanmar, was arrested while in court inside Myitkyina Prison, Kachin State, where he was assisting individuals who had been detained under Article 505(a). The charges against him are not known at the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal.
In the evening of May 27, 2021, Ayeyar Lin Htut was abducted from Hinthada District Court by SAC Terrorist Group  and charged with incitement under Article 505(a). At the time of publication of this Urgent Appeal, she was being held in Hinthada Prison in Ayeyarwady [Irrawaddy] Region. Ayeyar Lin Htut was representing political prisoners arrested following the coup.
On May 24, 2021, Thein Hlaing Tun, who represented ousted Naypyidaw Mayor Myo Aung, was arrested while he tried to meet with his client at a special court in Naypyidaw. Thein Hlaing Tun was charged under Article 505(a).
The Observatory condemns the arbitrary detention and judicial harassment of lawyers, which is inconsistent with international human rights standards, including the Basic Principles on the Role of Lawyers,  which guarantee the protection of lawyers in the course of their work and prohibit their prosecution in relation to cases they defend. The Observatory expresses grave concern over the high risk of torture, enforced disappearance, and summary execution the five lawyers are facing while in custody. The Observatory remains concerned by the ongoing actions by the military junta to curtail fundamental rights, including the rights to freedom of expression, freedom of peaceful assembly, and to a fair trial.
The Supreme Court (SC) has assigned a committee to evaluate cases of killings and threats against lawyers and judges.
In his Meet the Press event, Chief Justice Alexander Gesmundo said they received numerous records involving attacks on members of the judiciary.
“Kailangan himayin ito upang maunawaan namin at saka lamang kami makapagbibigay ng action [We have to carefully study this and only then can we take action]. We will act on the results of those reports and recommendation within the jurisdiction of the judiciary,” Gesmundo added.
In March, the SC issued a rare statement condemning the killings of lawyers, judges, and prosecutors. Various groups, including lawyers’ organizations, urged the high court to act and address the rising number of attacks.
More than 60 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors have been killed under the Duterte administration.
The SC then ordered lower courts, law enforcement agencies, and public interest groups to submit “relevant information to shed light on the number and context of each and every threat or killing of a lawyer or judge within the past 10 years.”
Gesmundo said if the cases are outside the judiciary’s jurisdiction, they would endorse the results to appropriate government institutions “for them to address these issues.”
Last week, I was asked to speak before a webinar sponsored by the UP Portia Alumnae Association on my experiences as a human rights lawyer during martial law.
As many of you know, I began my career as a lawyer in the 1960s, trading the comforts and perks of being a corporate counsel in favor of being a lawyer for farmers, workers, student activists, and ordinary folks who would otherwise be deprived of legal representation because of their inability to afford the usual cost of legal services.
It was a difficult practice, especially for a lawyer newly-minted such as myself. It became even more difficult after Marcos declared martial law.
Yet despite the difficulties, which we faced, and the threats and harassment, which we endured, a few of us, a band of brothers were determined to pursue our convictions during those dark days.
We banded together and formed the Movement of Attorneys for Brotherhood, Integrity, and Nationalism Inc. or MABINI. Our group, as I described in my speech, was “a response against the tide of injustice, abuse of power, and disregard for the rights of the people.”
The Marcos regime gained and consolidated power by sowing fear. Violence and intimidation were its main weapons. And for 34 years, it succeeded in silencing majority of the population. Yet our small group of human rights lawyers persevered, undeterred by the threats and actual acts of violence. It was this strength of conviction that helped us not only to endure the suffering but overcome the fear.
I shared this insight to the webinar participants. Lawyers are living in dangerous times. I had thought all along that the years of martial law were the most dangerous years for lawyers. Sadly, I was mistaken.
More lawyers have been insulted, bullied, threatened, and killed in the past five years than at any time in recent history.
But what disappoints and enrages many of our colleagues is the absence of outrage, even from our fellow lawyers. It is hard to believe that the acts of harassment and intimidation inflicted not only on the legal profession and the judiciary – for the violence has also claimed prosecutors and judges among its victims – but on the people as well are being disregarded or ignored. If the intent is to beat our profession into submission, the absence of a collective response may be seen as a sign that they have succeeded.
Every life and family impacted is precious. But this high number of killings is, in itself, a broader, institutional concern.
The killing of two unarmed civilians, Sonya and Frank Gregorio, that happened last December 20, has rightly met with widespread condemnation and ignited the debate about the need for police reform in the Philippines.
Others point to lawlessness and lack of respect for the police, contributing to an “us versus them” mentality. Yet others emphasize a policing culture of addressing crime by resorting to violence and abuse of power.
In recent weeks, a number of killings – by unknown assailants, of individuals playing a role in protecting their communities – has been reported. The killing of two human rights activists in August, of a journalist in November, of two lawyers in Cebu in November and December, and of a doctor and her husband last December 16, are among the most recent such cases.
This impacts negatively on security and development.
The Human Rights Council resolution adopted by consensus on October 7 of this year, with the support of the Government of the Philippines and a large number of member states, has provided a basis for such cooperation.
Since the adoption of the Human Rights Council Resolution, the UN has actively engaged with civil society organizations, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, and a range of different government actors to set the basis of an ambitious program.
However, we should agree that the success of technical cooperation greatly relies on the existence of an enabling environment, with strong commitment to change.
The killing of Sonya and Frank Gregorio impacts on all of us. Preventing such killings and ensuring accountability must be our foremost priority.
A lawyer in Cebu was shot dead on Thursday afternoon by unidentified gunmen, joining the list of now over 50 individuals in the legal profession killed in recent years.
The Integrated Bar of the Philippines – Cebu said Baby Maria Concepcion Landero-Ole was gunned down in Looc, Danao City on broad daylight, flagging the rising number of lawyers being killed as “something that we cannot take just with a grain of salt.”
“We condemn the atrocities being cast against fellow lawyers and we must not allow this system of violence to persist in our midst,” IBP-Cebu said. “We have been nothing but cooperative with all investigations done by authorities. And we will continue to take this high route.”
Police in Danao have confirmed the death of Landero-Ole based on a report by The Freeman, with perpetrators still at large.
No other details on Landero-Ole’s death have been made available so far, but the IBP has since renewed calls for reforms to put an end to the murder of lawyers, prosecutors and judges since the Duterte administration began in 2016.
The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor said on Monday that there is “reasonable basis to believe” the Philippines has committed crimes against humanity in connection with President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called war on drugs operation.
Fatou Bensouda’s office, in its annual report, said those crimes included murder, torture, infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm. They took place between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019.
The ICC prosecutor’s office has been examining the Philippines’ case since 2018, focusing in particular on allegations that Duterte and other government officials have actively promoted and encouraged the killing of suspected drug users and dealers, as well as claims that law enforcement officials and unidentified assailants have carried out thousands of unlawful killings in the Philippines.
A final decision on a formal ICC investigation could come in the first half of 2021, the report said, attributing the delays to the coronavirus pandemic.
Duterte, who assumed office in 2016, has promised a relentless war against drugs – an issue he campaigned on during the presidential election of that same year. On several occasions, the Philippine president had told police officers to “shoot and kill” drug suspects, saying in 2017 that “I will kill more if only to get rid of drugs”.
The ICC report noted that law enforcement officials were involved in the deaths of more than 5,300 people during their anti-drug crackdown.
It also said there were thousands of more killings by unidentified assailants, noting there were allegations these murders “were planned, directed, and or/coordinated”, if not actually committed by law enforcement officers themselves.
According to the Philippine police, at least 5,552 people were killed during police operations between December 2019 and June 30, 2016, the day Duterte was sworn in as president. An earlier report published in June 2019, however, showed a death toll of 6,600. The police did not explain why the number was revised down.
Meanwhile, rights advocates say as many as 27,000 people were killed as of mid-2019 – including the victims killed by “unknown gunmen”, some of whom later turned out to be police officers.
Human Rights Group decries murder attempt against Filipina human rights lawyer
ICHRP OFFICIAL STATEMENT
The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) decries the ambush on Atty. Criselda Heredia while she was with her daughter and client last September 23, 2019. Fortunately, the three were physically uninjured as shots were fired into Heredia’s car by unidentified gunman on board a motorcycle. The incident happened in the municipality of Panit-an on the island of Panay, Central Philippines, around 11:30 am.
Heredia is a human rights lawyer and active in anti-mining campaigns on the island. As a member of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) she handles pro bono cases for farmers, human rights defenders and political prisoners.
According to NUPL, before the shooting, Heredia was red-tagged in posters and had been receiving death threats from unidentified men visiting her office. Human rights lawyer Atty. Benjamin Ramos was murdered on the nearby island of Negros last November 7, 2018. Before Ramos’ death, he was also red-tagged with name and face included in posters rolled out across the island.
“ICHRP condemns this outright attack against Filipino human rights lawyers. There is a clear pattern of vilification and harassments which then lead to political killings,” said Mr. Peter Murphy, chair of ICHRP’s Global Council. “This only shows the continuing climate of impunity and the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines under President Duterte”.
The attack on Atty Heredia brings to total for attacks on lawyers since President Duterte came to office in July 2016 to 61, with 49 killed and 12 survivors.
✊#Avocatsendanger#Etatdedroit Le CCBE condamne fermement les récentes attaques contre des avocats en 🇦🇱Albanie 🇩🇿Algérie 🇩🇪Allemagne 🇨🇳Chine 🇪🇬Égypte 🇯🇲Jamaïque 🇵🇭Les Philippines 🇿🇦Afrique du Sud 🇹🇯Tadjikistan 🇱🇺Pays-Bas et 🇹🇷Turquie ⬇️https://t.co/B6aab8Gfc7
ONGOING: National Congress Against the Death Penalty
Scholars and respected speakers on the field of capital punishment and drug policy gather to discuss nuanced perspectives on the anti-drug campaign, extrajudicial killings, and death penalty. #NoToDeathPenaltypic.twitter.com/ZIUdxKsULf
New report by @PhilRights documented 118 alleged cases of Extrajudicial Killings (EJK) committed in the Philippines since the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs." These human rights violations are "systemic, coordinated, sequential, and comprehensive." https://t.co/DYT66xnSFApic.twitter.com/9ky0MDtRtF