Monday, 18 February 2019
Private Members' Business
Senator Leila De Lima
I seek leave to make an additional contribution.
I thank the member for Goldstein for his contribution. The case of Senator de Lima is a clear example of what happens when a government seeks to circumvent the rule of law. In emphasising that, the evidence against Senator de Lima consists of untested statements by convicted drug lords, police officers and prison officials. Therefore, I believe it's important that we put Senator de Lima's situation into context.
As Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, Senator de Lima investigated extrajudicial killings carried out by the Davao death squad in Davao City under the leadership of then Mayor Duterte. As secretary of justice, Senator de Lima was responsible for putting a former president and three senators behind bars and subjecting several other congressmen to criminal charges associated with corruption. Senator de Lima also authorised the raid of Bilibid prison in an effort to target a drug network that existed within that facility.
In 2016 Senator de Lima filed a motion in her parliament to conduct investigations into the extrajudicial killings that were taking place under the newly-elected President Duterte's drug policy. This was the tipping point that led to her removal as chair of the Senate committee and subjected her to trumped up charges of trading in illegal drugs, although they were subsequently changed to charges of conspiracy to commit illegal drug trading—the latter causing her incarceration. Clearly, if the police are given impunity for killing people on the basis of mere suspicion to appease the president's policy, I'm sure for those in authority making a false statement would be far less onerous and, therefore, easily forthcoming.
This is what happens when you set aside the rule of law. As the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention reasoned, 'there is no explanation for this other than her exercise of the right to express such views and convictions as a human rights defender'. While it's important for leaders to show commitment where there are threats to the wellbeing of the community, such as a drug epidemic, nevertheless, actions should be proportionate, be evidence based, incorporate appropriate oversight and, most importantly, be compliant with the rule of law.
Surely an attack on human rights is an attack on our collective humanity. We must never remain silent when human rights are being attacked. Silence only encourages those who seek to undermine the human rights principles, structure and democratic institutions that underpin our societies and allow for the creation of strong and inclusive communities.
It's for this reason that we as parliamentarians and concerned members of the international community cannot afford to remain silent in the face of blatant attacks on systems of justice and really, for that matter, the rule of law itself. I reiterate my call on the Australian government to use all its diplomatic measures to urge the Philippines government to immediately release Senator De Lima and ensure that any subsequent trials that she has to face are conducted in a fair and transparent manner, consistent with the rule of law and subject to appropriate international oversight.
I believe for those of us of goodwill it is important that we work together with our neighbouring nations to ensure respect for the rule of law. What we must appreciate is that, when the rule of law is being sidelined, we are going to see the curtailment of human rights as an inevitable result. As Desmond Tutu once said, if you are neutral in situations of injustice you have chosen the side of the oppressor.