AHRC was founded at a time of grave human rights concerns in the country. Although its initial aim was to expose students of the Ateneo Law School to pressing human rights issues, it has evolved into a service-oriented organization with the creation of a Litigation unit, which is presently under the Ateneo Law School Legal Aid Program.
The litigation unit involves the lawyers and law students in handling human rights cases. Student volunteers, with the supervision of AHRC lawyers, interview clients, gather information, and document assigned cases. In addition, volunteer lawyers, who are mostly alumni interns, are engaged on a pro bono basis to handle individual cases, with the help of the student volunteers.
Only select cases are accepted. The criteria for accepting cases include their impact and significance on human rights advocacy and developmental work. Priority is given to those involving child abuse, children in conflict with the law, child labor, migrant workers, abused women, indigenous peoples, and labor problems. A Quick Reaction Team, is also sometimes formed by AHRC lawyers and students, to handle cases of warrantless arrest in its first instance.
A significant number of cases involve children due to the work of the children’s desk, which has been providing direct legal counseling to children’s parents and children’s support organizations. The lawyers handle cases involving child abuse and exploitation, child custody, and children in conflict with the law. They also assist in operations to rescue children exploited in prostitution and for the closure of establishments serving as cover for prostitution.
Among the significant cases handled by AKAP is the landmark case of People versus Steven Mitchell, which, in Philippine legal history, is the second conviction involving pedophilia.
Training and Education
AHRC participates in law and policy reform initiatives in the country to ensure that human rights instruments and standards are implemented and complied with in the various programs of government.
A major aspect of human rights advocacy in the Philippines is the education and training of human rights advocates, developmental law practitioners, grassroots communities, and civil servants. AHRC conducts education and training seminars for the enhancement of human rights advocacy in the country. The topics and focus of the seminars range from lectures on national and international laws on human rights to skills development. The objective is mainly to empower target communities with the knowledge and skills needed to protect and uphold their rights. However, these seminars are also aimed to educate decision-makers and support groups on current human rights issues and applicable laws and policies. Modules and other materials to enhance education and training are continually developed as reference materials and as guides for users in the conduct of group discussions and workshops to seminar participants.
Law students are introduced to the concept of alternative law practice and human rights advocacy through orientation seminars given under the Internship program. They are then encouraged to participate in other seminars conducted by the AHRC through its different desks. Staff lawyers and student volunteers participate by serving as lecturers, trainors or facilitators during seminars.
Law & Policy-Reform Advocacy
AHRC participates in various law and policy reform initiatives in the country to ensure that human rights instruments and standards are implemented and complied with through the various programs of government.
AKAP, for instance, has been involved in the drafting of bills on child labor, juvenile justice, domestic helpers, and legalization of stay of the remaining Vietnamese nationals in the Philippines. The conduct of consultation workshops, symposia and other focus group discussions has been useful in laying down the groundwork for legislative advocacy. On a number of occasions, test-case litigation has provided the framework for proposing amendments to certain laws.
AHRC also assists government agencies and NGOs in drafting of implementing rules and regulations, including the preparation of policy papers and reports on human rights and developmental issues.
On a regional level, AHRC’s experience in influencing policy and legislative reforms has served as an example for other human rights groups in the ASEAN region in undertaking similar initiatives within their respective countries.