By BENJIE OLIVEROS
MANILA — The United Nations (UN), including its committees and commissions, is not known for straightforward and precise assessments and statements. Its reports and statements are usually couched in diplomatic language. This is understandable because the UN is comprised of governments, thus they would not want to offend each other for fear of jeopardizing their economic and diplomatic ties. The only exception is when a member-nation threatens the economic and political interests of a powerful nation, especially the US, as well as other permanent members of the UN Security Council.
For many years, the UN tolerated the Marcos dictatorship, as well as the dictatorships of the Duvaliers of Haiti, the Somozas of Nicaragua, among others, because they were supported by the US. International condemnation of the human-rights violations of the Marcos dictatorship came mainly from nongovernmental human rights organizations and church groups. Governments in Europe applied more subtle forms of pressure such as through discreet memos, withholding of development aid, and support for local human rights organizations and advocacies.
Public condemnation by the UN of the human rights violations of the Marcos dictatorship came only in 1985 when the Philippine government was classified as a gross violator of human rights. It took the UN 13 years before it expressed its concern over the impunity in the commission of human rights violations by the Marcos dictatorship.
However, it took the UN only six years before it expressed its concern over the impunity in the commission of human rights violations, especially extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, by the Arroyo government. In 2007, Philip Alston, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary, or arbitrary executions, called the attention of the Arroyo government regarding the spate in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances being committed by the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP), as well as the filing of trumped-up charges against activists by the Inter-Agency Legal Action Group (IALAG). The claims by the Arroyo government that Alston was influenced by left-leaning groups is baseless considering that in the course of his 10-day visit, he only allotted two days to hear the side of nongovernment organizations. Alston spent the eight days of his visit talking with government officials, the AFP and the Philippine National Police, and the government-created investigating bodies: the Melo Commission and the Task Force Usig.
Earlier in 2003, Rodolfo Stavenhagen, UN special rapporteur on situation of human rights and fundamental freedoms of indigenous peoples, expressed concern over the implications of open-pit mining, logging, and other economic activities that result in serious human-rights violations against indigenous peoples and the serious human-rights abuses being committed by the military against indigenous peoples resisting these “development projects.” The European Union passed a resolution, dated April 26, 2007, expressing grave concern over the alarming number of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances under the Arroyo government and denouncing the attacks on legal opposition groups.
The Marcos dictatorship was never questioned by US government officials. But the human-rights record of the Arroyo government was the subject of a hearing of the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs chaired by Sen. Barbara Boxer. The committee asked the Philippine government to put a stop to the extrajudicial killings abductions, torture and other human-rights violations.
The latest body to call the attention of the Arroyo government regarding its dismal human rights record and express concern over the climate of impunity is the UN Committee against Torture (UNCAT). The UNCAT expressed its grave concern at the widespread use of torture by military, police, and senior government officials, the continuing extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, and the sexual violence being committed against women detainees. It also called the attention of the government regarding the climate of impunity being enjoyed by the perpetrators.
The human-rights record of the Arroyo government has been so scandalously appalling that the regime could no longer escape the attention of governments and the UN. The climate of impunity has been so glaring that nobody believes the Arroyo administration when it claims that torture, extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and the filing of trumped up charges are against government policy.
And yet, the Arroyo government does not seem to care. It took a tremendous amount of international pressure before it slackened the practice of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. But it never did put a stop to these abhorrent violations.