HRW: Excess in autocratic rule in 2018 'fueling' effective resistance

MANILA, Philippines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Thursday, January 7, highlighted the “increasingly effective resistance” against the “dark time” of autocrats and rights abusers across the world in 2018.

HRW executive director Kenneth Roth, in his keynote address for the group’s World Report 2019, praised the work of defenders of human rights and democracy who are “winning their share of battles” against political leaders. 

“Victory in any given case is never assured, but it has occurred often enough in the past year to suggest that the excesses of autocratic rule are fueling a powerful counterattack,” he said. 

The New York-based group, in the report, also cautioned against the continuing trend of populist leaders, citing Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro who joined the ranks of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and Chinese President Xi Jinping, among others. 

Roth, however, said that the pushback by the public, particularly those who are part of human rights groups, have pressed governments to step back and calculate costs and benefits of their “abusive decisions.” 

“Such pressure may not succeed immediately, but it has a proven record over the long term,” he said. 

Continuous attacks

HRW’s report also cited what they call “a rare triumph of accountability in the Philippines” in the form of conviction of the killers of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos and of retired major general Jovito Palparan for the kidnapping and series illegal detention of students Karen Empeño and Sherlyn Cadapan who remain missing until now. 

Despite these “triumphs,” HRW still blasted attacks done by the Duterte government, including the continuous harassment of the press, detainment of Senator Leila de Lima, revocation of Senator Antonio Trillanes IV’s amnesty, and efforts to tag members of human rights and progressive groups as terrorists(READ: Powering through a crisis: Defending human rights under Duterte)  

Human rights defenders have long been on the receiving end of threats and harassment as they continue to criticize Duterte’s anti-drug campaign which has killed more than 5000 people in drug operations alone. (READ: The Impunity Series)

In fact, according to Front Line Defenders, at least 39 human rights defenders were killed in the Philippines in 2018 alone. 

The Philippines was named as one of the 38 countries in which government subjects defenders to an “alarming and shameful level of harsh reprisals and intimidation,” according to the United Nations. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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