President Rodrigo Duterte painted only a partial picture of how member-states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) view the human rights situation in the Philippines in his annual State of the Nation Address.
Stressing freedom from illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption and criminality as a human right and highlighting two executive orders he signed on child labor and on diversity and inclusion, Duterte said in his fifth SONA on July 27 that an “overwhelming number” of HRC members “extolled" these achievements at the council’s 44th session held from June 30 to July 17 in Geneva.
We issued last year Executive Order No. 100 establishing the Diversity and Inclusion Program as a national program of the Government. We want to end the discrimination of persons on the basis of age, disability, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity and expression, and other character traits.
My administration always believed that freedom from illegal drugs, terrorism, corruption and criminality, is itself a [human right].
Part of our efforts to uphold human rights is protection of the rights of children and the right against discrimination. Early last year, I signed Executive Order No. 92 creating the National Council Against Child Labor. Government efforts to protect the rights of children will be amplified to prevent, reduce and eliminate any form of child labor.
Our achievements along these lines have been extolled by an overwhelming number of our fellow member-States in the UN Human Rights Council, during its recently held 44th session last June.
On the contrary, at the interactive dialogue on the human rights situation in the Philippines on June 30, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former Chilean president Michelle Bachelet presented to the council the “very serious” findings of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) on the Duterte administration's human rights record.
The OHCHR report said laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs in the Philippines have severely impacted human rights and resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detentions and the vilification of those who challenge severe human rights violations. These people run the risk of being tagged as terrorists and enemies of the State, it said.
The report noted the “widespread and systematic” killings arising from Duterte’s campaign against illegal drugs, including the deaths of 73 children. Police operations were being carried out “without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs,” it said.
The High Commissioner, who has been refused entry to the Philippines, also raised longrunning concerns of the perpetrators' “near impunity.”
Bachelet also took issue with the recent passage of the Anti-Terrorism Act which, she said, could blur distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.
The OHCHR, however, reported laws the Philippines passed in recent years to advance human rights: on universal access to tertiary education and health care, mental health, sexual harassment, and children in situations of armed conflict, and Magna Cartas of women, the poor and persons with disabilities.
During the dialogue, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra rejected the OHCHR’s concerns even as he said the Duterte administration has created an interagency panel that has been conducting a judicious review since February of the 5,655 anti-illegal drugs operations where deaths occurred.
He said the panel, led by the Department of Justice, will engage affected families and the nongovernment sector in reevaluating the cases, with the Commission on Human Rights as an independent monitoring body.
As Duterte said in his SONA, several HRC members cited the positive assessment of the Philippines' promotion of economic and social rights, including on universal access to tertiary education, access to health and protection of children in situations of armed conflict.
They also welcomed Manila's continuing cooperation with the OHCHR, including on the campaign against illegal drugs.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations said it recognized the Philippines’ efforts to establish mechanisms and address human rights issues related to its anti-illegal drugs campaign.
Vietnam, which delivered Asean’s position at the dialogue, also welcomed Manila’s intent to further widen engagement with the UN.
China and Russia disagreed with Bachelet’s negative findings on the Philippines, saying the OHCHR should be impartial, neutral and objective.
Russia said the HRC’s approach toward the Philippines was an example of “politicization” within the UN.
However, a number of member states, including the European Union and Canada, shared the OHCHR’s concerns on the extrajudicial killings, human rights violations and climate of impunity related to the war on drugs.
Strongly worded statements were issued by the Nordic countries—Denmark, Iceland, Norway, Sweden and Finland—the United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and Liechtenstein, among others.
Liechtenstein expressed regret over Duterte’s decision to withdraw the Philippines from the Rome Statute amid the International Criminal Court’s preliminary examination of the extrajudicial killings. The statute established the court.
“This shows us that the Government of the Philippines does not undertakes all possible efforts to protect and prevent its populations from the most serious crimes and combat impunity for the killings of the past years,” it said.
New Zealand, Australia, the UK and Nordic countries expressed concern other violations of human rights, such as freedom of expression, of human rights defenders, activists and journalists.
The UK singled out the lawsuits against Rappler and shutdown of ABS-CBN. It said human rights defenders “should be able to operate without fear of reprisal.”
5th State of the Nation Address of Rodrigo Roa Duterte President of the Philippines to the Congress of the Philippines. (2020, July 27). Retrieved from https://pcoo.gov.ph/presidential-speech/5th-state-of-the-nation-address-of-rodrigo-roa-duterte-president-of-the-philippines-to-the-congress-of-the-philippines/
Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. (2020, June 30). Human Rights Council – 44th session Enhanced Interactive Dialogue with the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on the situation of human rights in the Philippines: 30 June 2020 Australian Statement. Retrieved from https://www.dfat.gov.au/sites/default/files/44th-hrc-national-statement-id-hc-philippines.pdf
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