By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA — The Philippines is signatory to several international agreements for the protection of human rights, foremost of which is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Philippine government signed the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). The ICCPR focuses on the right to life, freedom of speech, religion, among others. The ICESCR focuses on the right to food, education, health and shelter. Both agreements had been entered into force in two separate sessions of the United Nations General Assembly in 1976.
The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council is the body responsible for strengthening the promotion and protection of human rights of UN member states. It is composed of 47 member states elected by the UN General Assembly. One of its mechanisms to assess the human rights situations in all UN member states is the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) .
Created in 2006, the UPR reviews the human rights records of all 192 UN member states once every four years. In this process, each member state is provided the opportunity to declare what actions they have taken to improve the human rights situation in their respective countries and to fulfill their human rights obligations.
The reviews are conducted by the UPR working group consisting of the 47 members of the Human Rights Council, which holds meetings in Geneva. The review of each member state is based on the information provided by the State under review; information contained in the reports of independent human rights experts and groups, human rights treaty bodies, and other UN entities; and, information from other stakeholders including non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions.
An outcome report will then be issued providing the summary of the actual discussion, including the questions, comments and recommendations made by other states, as well as the responses by the member state under review. Each member state has the primary responsibility to implement the recommendations stated in the final outcome.
The Philippines under UPR
The first UPR cycle was undertaken from 2008 to 2011 and the Philippines was among the 16 member states included in the first session of this cycle.
The first UPR of the Philippines was held in April 2008, during the administration of then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The 40-member Philippine delegation was headed by then Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita, also chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Committee.
Other member states called on the Philippines to follow specific recommendations, among them to completely eliminate torture and extrajudicial killings – put forward by the representative of the Holy See; to intensify its efforts to carry out investigations and prosecutions on extrajudicial killings and punish those responsible – proposed by Switzerland; and to provide a follow-up report on the efforts and measures to address extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, taking into account the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions – by The Netherlands.
Also put forward was for the Philippines to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture – by Slovenia, Mexico, United Kingdom and the Netherlands – and the International Convention on the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance – by Slovenia and Mexico.
Among the voluntary commitments made by the Philippines during the first UPR, meanwhile, were “to maintain the momentum on addressing killings of activists and media professionals” and “to continue to find additional measures to answer the basic needs of the poor and other vulnerable sectors.”
Among the recommendations that was not supported by the Philippine government is to consider extending a standing invitation to special procedures – proposed by Brazil. There are 13 pending requests for visits, including that of the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders, the Special Rapporteur on Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the UN Working Group on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances.
Special rapporteurs could not conduct a visit without the consent of the government under review.
Second cycle of the UPR
The UPR working group will hold its 13th session for the UPR’s second cycle from May 21 to June 4 in Geneva. The Philippines is among the 14 member states to be subjected to review. The review of the Philippines is scheduled on May 29.
As of press time, Germany has submitted advance questions for the Philippines. Germany would like to know what concrete measures the government has undertaken since 2008, specifically its plans to effectively prevent extrajudicial killings and the steps the government is taking to put an end to enforced disappearances. Germany has also raised the question on how land reform is being implemented in the Philippines.
The Philippine government already submitted its national report to the Human Rights Council.