BY ALEXANDER MARTIN REMOLLINO
HUMAN RIGHTS WATCH
Vol. VIII, No. 11, April 20-26, 2008
The 44-man team led by Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, who also chairs the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC), to present the Philippine National Report (PNR) on the country’s human rights record before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva may make much of the applause they supposedly received during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) deliberations on the Philippines.
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…”
Ermita delivered his presentation on the PNR on April 11. The PNR was adopted by the 47-member UNHRC a week later.
The favorable reactions the members of the Philippine government delegation are purported to have received following Ermita’s presentation before the UNHRC are noted in no less than the Draft Report of the Working Group on the UPR.
But the same report also emphasizes a number of strong recommendations that were made to the Philippines.
Among these recommendations are that the Philippines “completely eliminate” tortures and enforced disappearances, put forward by Silvano Tomasi of the Holy See. Switzerland’s Martin Georgos Kelemenis, meanwhile, urged the government to intensify its efforts at investigating, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.
Karapatan (Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights) has documented 902 cases of extrajudicial killings and 180 enforced disappearances from January 2001 – when President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo was catapulted to power through a popular uprising – to March 2008.
UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary and Arbitrary Executions Philip Alston went on a mission to the Philippines in late 2007 to investigate extrajudicial killings and came up with a report specifically pointing to the military’s involvement in these. “In some parts of the country, the armed forces have followed a deliberate strategy of systematically hunting down the leaders of leftist organizations,” Alston, who is also a professor at New York University (NYU), said.
There are more than 200 political prisoners under the Arroyo regime, Karapatan data also show. Many of them are identified as having been tortured by their military or police custodians.
Another strong recommendation was that the Philippine government sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (OPCAT). This recommendation was made by Slovenia’s Andrej Logar, Mexico’s Elia del Carmen Sosa Nishizaki, the United Kingdom’s Peter Gooderham, and the Netherlands’ Ninke Wyjmenga.
The OPCAT, adopted on Jan. 9, 2003 by the UN General Assembly, provides for an international inspection system for places of detention. It came into force on June 27, 2006 following its ratification by the required number of states. By the end of April 2007, 57 states had signed the OPCAT, of which 34 had also ratified it.
The states that had ratified the OPCAT were Albania, Argentina, Armenia, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Cambodia, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Georgia, Honduras, Liberia, Liechtenstein, Maldives, Mali, Malta, Mauritius, Mexico, Moldova, New Zealand, Paraguay, Peru, Poland, Senegal, Serbia, Slovenia, Spainx, Sweden, Ukraine, United Kingdom and Uruguay.