The International Bar Association has awarded former Bayan Muna Rep. Neri Javier Colmenares the 2020 IBA Award for Outstanding Contribution to Human Rights.
The IBA cited Colmenares, a staunch defender of human rights, for his “extensive contribution to human rights and his continuing determination and advocacy” in protecting victims notwithstanding “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,” said Colmenares upon being notified of his award.
He added: “Awards from established international institutions like the IBA also serve 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.”
The IBA confers the award annually to honor legal practitioners who have made oustanding contributions to the promotion, protection and advancement of human rights of any group of people.
Colmenares received his award from the international lawyers group on during the online Section on Public and Professional Interest Awards ceremony on Monday.
In his message, IBA President Horacio Bernardes Neto said: “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.”
Colmenares started his human rights advocacy as a young student.
He was the Regional Chairman of the Student Catholic Action of the Philippines during martial law in the 1970s, an era that was plagued with serious and numerous human rights violations against critics of the government.
Then president Ferdinand E. Marcos had Colmenares arrested for leading the campaign for the restoration of student councils and other human rights issues against the Marcos adminsitration.
Then only 18, Colmenares was among the youngest political prisoners to suffer under the Marcos regime.
Neto said that as a human rights lawyer, Colmenares has argued a number of cases before the Supreme Court of the Philippines in support of minorities, including the Party List Election Case in 2000, which led to the Supreme Court ordering that 20 per cent of the seats in Congress be reserved for the marginalised and underrepresented poorer citizens.
He also played a central role in bringing about constitutional change following the infamous Pork Barrel Case , a political scandal in which public funds allocated for development projects in the Philippines were being misused by several members of Congress.
In 2007, Colmenares 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.
The former Bayan Muna congressman, together with fellow human rights lawyers, constitutionalists and several law students, established Manlaban sa EJK in 2017.
The organization launched legal action against the continued extra judicial killings under President Rodrigo Duterte