New Watchdog Calls for Termination of RP Membership in UN Rights Body

Vol. VIII, No. 9, April 6-12, 2008

A new coalition formed to observe the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) deliberation on the Philippines is calling for the termination or suspension of the country’s membership in the Geneva-based United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

At the very least, the Philippine UPR Watch – which is sending to Geneva a six-member delegation composed of National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) general secretary Fr. Rex Reyes; Bayan Muna (People First) Rep. Teddy Casiño; Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) secretary-general Marie Hilao-Enriquez; International Association of People’s Lawyers (IAPL) president Edre Olalia; Jonathan Sta. Rosa, brother of slain Methodist pastor Isaias Sta Rosa; and Dr. Edita Burgos, mother of missing activist Jonas Burgos – is urging the UNHRC to issue a “subtle yet diplomatic” critique on the Philippine government.

The UPR is a new mechanism that was established under General Assembly Resolution 60/251, which established the UNHRC on March 15, 2006. The said resolution provides that the UNHRC shall “undertake a universal periodic review, based on objective and reliable information, of the fulfillment by each State of its human rights obligations and commitments in a manner which ensures universality of coverage and equal treatment with respect to all States; the review shall be a cooperative mechanism, based on an interactive dialogue, with the full involvement of the country concerned and with consideration given to its capacity-building needs; such a mechanism shall complement and not duplicate the work of treaty bodies…”

The 47-member UNHRC is slated to hold its UPR deliberation on the Philippines this coming April 11.

Already, the Arroyo government’s preparations for the defense of its human rights record in Geneva – where the UNHRC is based – are in full swing. In fact, it had reportedly sent representatives to Geneva as early as last February. Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita himself – who also chairs the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) – is set to head a 44-member Philippine government delegation to Geneva.

In an e-mail interview with Bulatlat, Olalia said the Philippine government’s sending a 44-man team to defend its human rights record reflects an attempt to “hoodwink the international community” and cover up its “dirty” human rights record.

“They should not pollute the clean air and surroundings and sully the elegant and imposing UN halls and buildings here in Geneva with their pack of lies and hypocrisy,” Olalia said. “Geneva is too tranquil and idyllic for them to send this big roving band. General Ermita leading the contingent with almost the same number of members as the country-members of the UNHRC is the ultimate insult to the victims of the horrors of the government’s dirty war where he is a leading player.”

Civil and political rights

In the Philippine National Report submitted to the UPR, the Arroyo administration states that the government “has taken firm measures” to address the issues of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. This is among the claims which the Arroyo administration intends to put forward as proof of its supposed compliance with its obligations in the area of civil and political rights.

It cites among other supposed achievements the creation of the Melo Commission to investigate extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Measures implemented by the Arroyo administration supposedly in response to the Melo Commission’s recommendations are cited as follows:

· The President issued A.O. 181 Creating a Task Force on Extrajudicial Killings, a special team of prosecutors from the DoJ (Department of Justice);

· Issuance of Administrative Order No. 181 (July 2007) strengthening the coordination between the National Prosecution Service and other concerned agencies of government for the successful investigation and prosecution of political and media killings;

· In October 2007, the President of the Philippines ordered the PNP and the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to take active steps to prevent human rights violations by men in uniform. This includes instructions and training designed to reiterate to all PNP and AFP personnel that human rights abuses will not be tolerated;

· The President issued A.O. 211 creating a multi-agency Task Force against Political Violence, Task Force 211(November 2007) to increase coordination between the Department of Justice, the Department of National Defense, the Presidential Human Rights Committee, investigative and national security agencies, and civil society for speedier solutions to such violence.

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