THE 2020 International Bar Association (IBA) Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights has been bestowed upon to former Bayan Muna party-list Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares, a renowned human rights lawyer and activist in the Philippines.
Colmenares, Bayan Muna chairman, received the accolade in respect of his extensive contribution to human rights, and his continuing determination and advocacy, in the face of great adversity.
‘I thank the International Bar Association, the IBA Human Rights Institute and the Human Rights Law Committee for this award, which is not only an honor but also an inspiration to human rights lawyers like me to continue our work with the people despite the threats and difficulties. 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,” said Colmenares on notification of becoming the 2020 IBA awardee,.
Sponsored by LexisNexis , the award is conferred annually 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 with respect to their right to live in a fair and just society under the rule of law.
The presentation was made on Monday, November 9, 2020 during the online Section on Public and Professional Interest Awards ceremony held as part of the IBA 2020 – Virtually Together Conference.
“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. 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 have brought about the sort of positive change that will benefit generations to come,” said IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto.
Colmenares’ human rights advocacy began when he became the regional chairman of the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines during martial law in the 1970s, when he was a young student.
He campaigned hard for the return of student councils, as well as on other human rights issues during the 70’s.
As a human rights lawyer, Colmenares has argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court (SC) in support of minorities, including the Party List Election Case in 2000, which led to the SC ordering that 20 percent of the seats in Congress be reserved for the marginalized and underrepresented poorer citizens.
In 2005, Colmenares helped organise the Counsels for the Defence against Attacks on Lawyers, a group of lawyers and law students advocating against the unlawful killings and arrests of their colleagues.
In 2007, he was elected as founding Secretary General of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, a group of lawyers providing legal aid to the victims of human rights violations.
In 2017, Colmenares, alongside fellow human rights lawyers, constitutionalists and several law students, established Manlaban sa EJK.
In addition to his work as an attorney, Colmenares was a member of the Philippine House of Representatives for three terms, 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.
Colmenares advocated for the democratic rights of those with disabilities and the elderly.
He authored an act creating Special Election Precincts to assist them in voting, as well as introducing the Early Voting Law for media personnel who would be covering the election on the day.
Colmenares recently appeared before the Parliament of Myanmar regarding the passing of laws for the protection of women, children and minorities.
Federica D’Alessandra, Co-Chair of the IBA Human Rights Law Committee, commented: “Throughout his career, Neri Javier Colmenares has drawn on every tool in the legal toolbox, from legislation, to litigation, to advocacy in order to advance human rights and the rule of law for the protection of the Filipino people. With this award the IBA recognises his incredible accomplishments, and celebrates his great resolve as he continues to fight for the rights of the people.”