Minister Payne must call out the surge of killings of lawyers and judges in the Philippines

The Philippine justice system is under threat as a result of a deadly surge in killings of lawyers and judges under President Duterte’s administration. The failure of the Philippine government to promote accountability mechanisms to protect the judiciary has facilitated a climate of impunity across the country, and put a vital arm of government under existential threat.

Amnesty International has written to Australian Foreign Minister Marise Payne asking her to put human rights at the centre of the Philippines-Australia Comprehensive Partnership, and call out the Philippines for this gross human rights violations.

A recent investigative report, which included data from the Supreme Court, confirmed that 61 lawyers, judges, and prosecutors have been killed under the Duterte administration since 2016. This number is put into stark relief against the 49 lawyers killed in the 44 years prior, over the span of six presidential administrations. From 2004 to 2021, only seven cases have resulted in charges filed in court, highlighting the stark failings of accountability mechanisms to protect members of the Judiciary. 

 The international community has a responsibility to respond to these human right violations, some of which amount to crimes against humanity. A failure to do so will merely guarantee their continuation. Australia must lead this international action.

There are more than 300,000 Filipino-Australians; the Australian government owes it to them that it is taking all steps appropriate and possible to ensure that their families and friends are safe.

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Joel MacKay is a campaigner at Amnesty International Australia.