Monday, January 26, 2009

Women’s Rights NGO Hails Obama for Rescinding the Global Gag Rule on Abortion and Reject’s the Vatican’s Statement as Contrary to Women’s Rights

Manila, January 26, 2009 --Attorney Clara Rita A. Padilla, Executive Director of EnGendeRights, hails U.S. President Obama’s act last Friday, January 23, in rescinding the Global Gag Rule. Under the policy, organizations that received USAID funding were prohibited from using their own funds to advocate for safe and legal abortion and provide for life-saving safe abortions services.

Atty. Padilla said, “The rescission works towards the advancement of free speech and puts a strong message forward that access to safe and legal abortion is a human right.”

“As Obama mentioned in his statement, ‘this will also work to promote safe motherhood, reduce maternal and infant mortality rates and increase educational and economic opportunities for women and girls,” Atty. Padilla continued.

Atty. Padilla added, “contrary to recent statement of the Vatican officials against the executive action, Obama’s action will spell the difference between life and death for almost half a million Filipino women every year who are driven to induce abortion with 79,000 admitted to hospitals for complications from unsafe abortion and 800 women who die.”

The Vatican’s position on access to access to safe and legal abortion is contrary to international human rights law. The United Nations treaty monitoring bodies have recognized access to safe and legal abortion as a matter of women’s rights to life, health, non-discrimination and dignity. Their position is based on principled interpretations of human rights norms, commitments contained in global consensus documents and evidence of the impact of unsafe abortion on women’s health.

During the August 2006 periodic review of the Philippines, the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW Committee), urged the government to “consider the problem of unsafe abortion as a matter of high priority” and “consider reviewing the laws relating to abortion with a view to removing punitive provisions imposed on women who undergo abortion and provide them with access to quality services for the management of complications arising from unsafe abortions and to reduce women’s maternal mortality rates in line with the Committee’s general recommendation 24 on women and health and the Beijing Platform for Action.”

The CEDAW Committee has rightly noted that the lack of access to contraceptive methods and family planning services, as well as restrictive abortion laws, tend to coincide with the prevalence of unsafe abortions that contributes to high rates of maternal mortality. The critical link between unsafe abortion and maternal mortality has also been a matter of concern for the Human Rights Committee (HRC) the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Committee (ESCRC) and the Children’s Rights Committee (CRC). The HRC ESCRC CEDAW and CRC have consistently called upon states with criminal abortion laws to review their laws as a means to ensuring women’s basic human rights.

The figures around the world reveal that criminalizing abortion does not eliminate abortions; it only makes it dangerous for women who undergo clandestine and unsafe abortion. The social justice implications of restrictive abortion laws has been recognized in many predominantly Catholic countries around the world, including Spain, Belgium, France, Italy, Poland, and Hungary (whose constitution protects life from conception but permits abortion up to 12 weeks of gestation). Recent abortion liberalizations occurred in Colombia , Mexico City (legalized abortion in the first trimester without restriction in April 2007) and Portugal (allows abortion up to 10 weeks of pregnancy).

“All the above-mentioned predominantly Catholic countries belie the claim that restricting access to contraception and even safe and legal abortion in the Philippines is a matter of practice of the Catholic religion. It is simply fundamentalism and non- adherence to standards of medicine, science and law and clinging to our colonial past that detrimentally impacts women’s health and lives,” Atty. Padilla stressed.

Atty. Padilla explains, “Furthermore, in the Philippines the full range of contraceptive methods is unavailable, which directly contributed to the high rate of unwanted pregnancy and pushes women to resort to unsafe abortions that in many cases result in death. The obligation to provide access to information and family planning methods as a means of reducing abortion has been recognized by the CEDAW Committee and the Beijing and Cairo Conferences consensus documents.”
“The Philippine government must respect women’s rights and in so doing comply with international law,” Atty. Padilla concluded.

Face-to-Face with Sabah Deportees by Clara Rita A. Padilla

October 8, 2008, Manila--EnGendeRights, represented by lawyer Clara Rita A. Padilla, was part of the team that went to Zamboanga for a fact- finding mission on the state of Filipinos who are being massively deported from Sabah by the Malaysian government. Representative Luz Ilagan of Gabriela Women’s Party and Connie Bragas-Regalado of Migrante International were also part of the team.

Clara Rita Padilla said, “In this fact-finding mission, I was face-to-face with the harsh realities our fellow Filipinos confront—the lack of access to education, lack of jobs, poverty and the impact of war in the conflict-ridden areas in Mindanao. Most of the deportees are unschooled or undereducated from Tawi-Tawi, Sulu, Region 9, and Basilan. Women from these areas experiencing the same harsh realities fall prey to trafficking in Sabah.”

Atty. Padilla continued, “It’s really unfortunate. You have Filipinos who suffer human rights violations at the detention centers and yet they still want to go back to Sabah to find work.”

“In February 2009, Malaysia will be reviewed by the Human Rights Council (HRC) for the Universal Periodic Review and that will be an important opportunity for us to hold the Malaysian government accountable for its compliance with the conventions it has ratified such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child,” added Atty. Padilla.

“Deportation or forcible transfer of population, rape, sexual slavery when committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against any civilian population is a crime against humanity under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court but Malaysia has not ratified the Rome Statute,” said Atty. Padilla.

The fact that Malaysia has not ratified the Rome Statute, the Migrants Convention, Torture Convention and the Optional Protocol to the Torture Convention, Racial Discrimination Convention, Civil and Political Rights Convention, Economic, Social and Cultural Rights Convention, the Optional Protocol to the Women’s Convention, the Disabilities Convention and the Optional Protocol to the Disabilities Convention and the Enforced Disappearance Convention will also be reviewed by the HRC. The HRC will also review the reports of special rapporteurs on Malaysia and the non-issuance of a "standing invitation" to the Special Rapporteurs. A standing invitation is an open invitation for the Rapporteurs to visit Malaysia.

Atty. Padilla continued that, “The state of the Filipino deportees can also be brought as urgent appeals to the UN Special Rapporteur on Migrants and Trafficking in Persons. In the case of trafficking of women, both the Malaysian and the Philippine governments have failed in their obligation to exercise due diligence to prevent, investigate and punish acts of violence against women.”[1]

In the report of then UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants Gabriela Rodríguez Pizarro on her 2002 visit to the Philippines, she recommended that Philippine “consular and embassy officials should investigate and document incidents of abuses during the deportation proceeding and detention up to the moment of embarkation from Malaysia.” In our fact finding mission, we found no such investigation and documentation of abuses being done by the Philippine consular and embassy officials.

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[1] See the Philippines “Note verbale dated 18 April 2007 from the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations addressed to the President of the General Assembly”, par. 15 states, “In recognition of the contributions of migrant workers to the society and the economy of both sending and receiving States in the region, as was emphasized in the ASEAN Declaration on the Protection and Promotion of the Rights of Migrant Workers, the Philippines will continue to advance the cause of migrant workers.”

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