UN hits out at terror bill ‘vague’ proviso

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights warned that the new anti-terrorism bill that Congress approved Wednesday “dilutes human rights safeguards.”

UN hits out at terror bill ‘vague’ proviso
TERROR BILL. Hundreds of protesters wearing face masks and shields carry placards as they march at a university campus in Quezon City on June 4,2020, a day after Congress approved an anti-terror bill which critics says will curtail civil liberties. The rally concides with a UN report on the war on drugs in the Philippines, calling for an independent probe into human rights abuses. AFP
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“The proposed 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, slated to replace the already problematic Human Security Act, dilutes human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant from three to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, in her report on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“The vague definitions in the Anti-Terrorism Act may violate the principle of legality,” it adds.

She said the measure was among “worrying new laws and amendments” that could erode constitutional and other legal protections.

The leftist Makabayan bloc in the House of Representatives on Thursday denounced the bill that awaits President Duterte’s signature, saying the measure could be used to trample upon the people’s basic freedoms and civil liberties.

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The group headed by Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said while President Duterte has repeatedly expressed his desire to declare nationwide martial law, “this new anti-terror law handed to him by his allies in Congress at his behest will grant him powers that transgress the constitutional limits on the exercise of certain martial law powers and run roughshod over fundamental rights and freedoms, including the right to due process and freedom of expression.”

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“On the pretext of amending the Human Security Act of 2007 to make it more effective in the fight against terrorism, this new anti-terror law has expanded and overly broadened the definition of terrorism to make it easier for authorities to declare legitimate acts of expression, collective action, and dissent protected by the Constitution as terrorism,” Zarate, a human rights lawyer, said.

The harshest penalty allowed by the current justice system, he said is imposed not only on terrorism, but a host of new crimes covered by the law, including conspiracy to commit terrorism, “planning, training, preparing, and facilitating” terrorism, recruitment to a terrorist organization, and providing material support to terrorists.”

“Most dangerous yet is that this new anti-terror law grants vast discretionary powers to the Anti-Terrorism Council, composed of Cabinet officials, mostly from the defense and security sectors, that have heretofore been reserved to courts,” the grou said. “The ATC may designate individuals and groups as terrorist, authorize the warrantless arrests and detention for up to 24 days, freezing of bank accounts and other assets, and conduct sweeping surveillance on private communications,” the group said.

A human rights group on Thursday warned that the proposed anti-terror bill may be used to justify imprisonment of political critics of the Duterte administration.

“We do not need laws that will enable this regime to imprison more Filipinos on the basis of baseless and fabricated charges, said Fides Lim, a spokesperson for the group Kapatid said. “What we need is the enforcement of the rule of law by safeguarding democratic rights and freedoms and repudiating the impunity that has allowed abusers to perpetrate injustice and evade the bar of justice.”

Kapatid, a human rights support group for the families of political prisoners, said at present, there are 619 political prisoners that include human rights activists, trade unionists, and peace advocates, 

The group issued the statement after the Senate version of the anti-terrorism bill was adopted by the House of Representatives’ committee on public order and safety and on national defense on May 29.

The House passed the controversial measure on third and final reading on Wednesday paving the way for its signing into law by President Duterte.

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Topics: UN High Commissioner for Human Rights , anti-terrorism bill , Human Security Act
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