History of the Ateneo Human Rights Center

Our Beginnings

The Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) is a university-based institution engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines. With its vision to have a just and humane society and the mission to respect, protect and promote human rights most especially in the Philippines, the AHRC works to achieve its objectives through engagement with communities and partner organisations. AHRC’s main areas of work include human rights training and education of law students and other sectors; promotion and protection of the rights of marginalized groups, including children, women, migrant workers, and indigenous peoples (through its Child Rights Desk, Women and Migrant Workers Desk, and Indigenous Peoples Desk); development of an ASEAN human rights mechanism; research, publication, curriculum development, legislative advocacy, and policy initiatives on human rights.

It was founded in July 1986, a few months after the historic EDSA Revolution drew attention to the indomitable might that is People Power. While the dictatorship infamous for human rights violations was overthrown through peaceful and bloodless means, it became obvious immediately thereafter that much work still had to be done in the field of human rights. AHRC was established as one of the first university-based institutions engaged in the promotion and protection of human rights in the country.

AHRC’s initial program was the Summer Internship Program. It was designed to provide law students with exposure to human rights work and advocacy and produced the first crop of interns in the summer of 1987. Since then, the Internship Program has been expanded substantially.

In 1990, two additional programs were put up: Research and Education, and Litigation. The Research and Education Program grew out of the need of various groups and sectors for more training and education on human rights issues and laws. The need for such training and education as well as the proposal to create a litigation unit to handle human rights cases were particularly articulated by interns borne out of their experiences during the Summer Internship Program. These developments eventually led to more intense advocacy on human rights issues.

Also in 1990, the AHRC became the Secretariat of the Human Rights Committee of the Law Association for Asia and the Pacific (LAWASIA). In 1993, the interns initiated the creation of the Child Rights Desk named Adhikain para sa Karapatang Pambata (AKAP) that became a pioneer in the legal promotion and protection of children’s rights in the Philippines. In 1996, the AHRC took on the role of Secretariat of the Working Group for an ASEAN Human Rights Mechanism. Subsequent developments include the establishment of specialized desks dealing with the rights of women (Urduja Women’s Desk), migrant workers, and indigenous peoples (Katutubo Desk).

Today, AHRC pursues its mandate of protecting and promoting human rights through increasingly varied programs and services. Among other things, it is engaged in legal assistance, research and publication, law and policy reform advocacy, education and training, institution building, curriculum development and values formation. AHRC’s efforts are not necessarily limited to its existing institutional desks and services. As diverse as the issues and laws pertaining to human rights are, the AHRC has been involved, by itself or in partnership with other institutions and organizations, in other projects where human rights issues and concerns are paramount. Some of AHRC’s key engagements include: peace and development, electoral participation and reform, justice education and problems of extra-legal killings.

AHRC has been involved in establishing Multi-Sectoral Quick Reaction Teams (MSQRTs) in pilot areas around the country to serve as one-stop assistance centers where victims and/or their families can report human rights violations, specifically violations of civil and political rights; request immediate investigation; seek legal advice and assistance; and request witness protection.

In pursuing its goals, AHRC works closely with various government, the academe, NGOs, grassroots organizations, and other civil society groups. Partnerships have been established and maintained with national and international organizations whose operations and expertise are relevant to the respective sectors served by AHRC. As a unit of the Ateneo Law School, AHRC also actively participates in the integration of human rights laws into the mainstream.
Through curriculum development, AHRC introduces law students to human rights advocacy and awareness within the framework of the legal system. AHRC has also been instrumental in the introduction of human rights courses into the Ateneo Law curriculum. Elective courses now include subjects such as Human Rights Law, Children’s Rights Law, Women’s Rights Law, Indigenous Peoples Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and Refugee Law.