By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – Human rights group Karapatan is dismayed over the reelection of the Philippines for a three-year term to the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).
The Philippines obtained the second highest number of votes during the 65th session of the U.N. General Assembly in New York, May 20, This is the third time that the Philippines has been elected to a seat in the UNHRC. The UN HRC is made up of 47 UN Member States and is responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights around the world.
“The country’s election to a new term in the UNHRC is a clear indication of the appreciation and confidence of the international community in the significant gains in our human rights record and the strong commitment of the administration of President Benigno S. Aquino III to further protect and advance human rights not only in our country but also around the world,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Albert F. del Rosario said in a statement.
But Karapatan said the Aquino administration “is no different from the Arroyo regime as far as human rights violations are concerned.”
Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan chairwoman, said that in a span of eight months of the Aquino presidency, counterinsurgency program Oplan Bayanihan has resulted in the extrajudicial killing of 45 individuals, mostly peasants. Thousands of farmers have also been displaced from their communities due to intensified military operations in the countryside. “This is far from the claim of the DFA secretary Albert del Rosario that the Aquino administration is working hard to protect human rights in this country,” Enriquez said.
For Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), the election of the Philippines is “an embarrassment for the UN HRC.” “This seriously impacts on the credibility of the UNHRC. The Philippines has a very poor human rights record dating back to nearly a decade of the Arroyo regime. It has gained notoriety for extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and arbitrary detention. These practices continue to this day,” Bayan secretary general Renato M. Reyes Jr. said.
“The current government seems to be going down the same path of the Arroyo government. The number of new extrajudicial killings remains alarming. The conviction rate of suspected perpetrators remains less than two percent There are more than 300 political prisoners languishing in jails around the country. How can our foreign affairs officials say that human rights is a priority of this government?” Reyes asked.
Enriquez found ironic that Ambassador Libran Cabactulan claimed that human rights is the Aquino administration’s cornerstone of good governance when “it has not taken decisive actions against the perpetrators of human rights violations under the Arroyo government.
Cabactulan is the Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations in New York.
In a recent report, the Amnesty International stated: “More than 200 cases of enforced disappearances recorded in the last decade remained unresolved, as did at least 305 cases of extrajudicial execution (with some estimates ranging as high as 1,200). Almost no perpetrators of these crimes have been brought to justice.”
Bayan said that the results of the vote may be the result of intense public relations blitz and lobbying rather than actual improvements in the human rights situation in the country since the time of the Arroyo government.
“It’s really no achievement since even during GMA’s [Arroyo] worst onslaught of human rights violations, the Philippines still got elected. It’s a shame really,” Reyes said.
Enriquez pointed out that prior to the election of the members of the UNCHR, a UN watchdog group UN Watch questioned the Philippines’ credentials to sit in the council, along with several other countries considered to hold the worst human rights records in the world. “We share and support the UN Watch’s position,” said Hilao-Enriquez.
Enriquez challenged Aquino to show that “if indeed it has strong commitment to advance human rights to immediately release the more than 300 political prisoners suffering in jails all over the country for the fabricated charges filed against them.”