Filipino human rights lawyer wins International Bar Association award


Staff Report

Neri Colmenares, a prominent human rights lawyer and activist in the Philippines was awarded by the International Bar Association (IBA), a leading organisation for international legal practitioners, bar associations and law societies, for his “extensive contribution to human rights and continuing determination and advocacy in the face of great adversity”.

Mr. Colmenares received his 2020 IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights on Monday (Nov. 09) at a virtual awarding ceremony during the IBA 2020 Virtual Conference.

“Awards from established international institutions like the IBA also serves as a mantle of protection to threatened lawyers worldwide and I thank the IBA for this recognition and your continuing advocacy to promote and protect human rights,” Colmenares said about his recent accolade.

The IBA annually gives the prestigious award to a legal practitioner who has made an outstanding contribution to the promotion, protection and advancement of the human rights of any group of people, particularly their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.

“This award is bestowed upon those who use their professional and legal skills to help others. This is true of no one more than Neri Javier Colmenares,” said IBA president, Horacio Neto.

“Seeking justice for victims of human rights violations as well as helping lead the campaign for the protection of lawyers and other human rights defenders, his courage, tenacity, fortitude and intellect has brought about the sort of positive change that will benefit generations to come.”

Mr. Colmenares has been a human rights advocate since he was a young student during the Philippines’ Martial Law era. Former President Ferdinand Marcos ordered his arrest for his persistent campaign for the return of student councils and other human rights issues. He then became one of the youngest political prisoners in the country at the age of 18.

After his release from prison, Mr. Colmenares remained a staunch defender of human rights, working tirelessly on his advocacy for years amid a backdrop of a very volatile human rights climate in the Philippines.

In 2017, Mr. Colmenares established the group Manlaban sa EJK (Fight Against Extra Judicial Killing), along with other human rights lawyers, constitutionalists and several law students, which campaigned against the continuing extra judicial killings in the country under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

He became the counsel for the families of extrajudicial killing victims in their filed complaint against President Duterte for crimes against humanity, at International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC Prosecutor is expected to resolve the complaint before the end of 2020.

In his most recent fight for human rights, Mr. Colmenares joined other human rights defenders in opposing the enactment of the controversial new Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, questioning the law’s constitutionality and disputing its vague and overly broad definition of terrorism, permission of warrantless arrests and detention of suspected individuals for weeks even without charge.

Delving into politics, the well-respected human rights lawyer became a member of the Philippine House of Representatives from 2007-2016, where he served as Senior Deputy Minority Leader of the 16th Congress. During his terms, he authored a number of human rights laws, including the Anti-Torture Law, the Anti-Enforced Disappearance Law and the Philippine Disaster Alert Law.