As December 10 International Human Rights day draws near, let us remind the Duterte administration that human rights is not something which could be upheld or disregarded at the whims or caprices of the government, the war no drugs notwithstanding.
There are fundamental rights that could not be totally disregarded or in human rights parlance non-derogable. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, these are:
– Right to life (art 6);
– Prohibition of torture, cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment (art 7);
– Prohibition of medical or scientific experimentation without consent (art 7);
– Prohibition of slavery, slave trade and servitude (art 8);
– Prohibition of imprisonment because of inability to fulfill contractual obligation (art 11);
– Principle of legality in criminal law i.e. the requirement that criminal liability and punishment is limited to clear and precise provisions in the law, that was in force at the time the act or omission took place, except in cases where a later law imposes a lighter penalty (art 15);
– Recognition everywhere as a person before the law (art 16);
– Freedom of thought, conscience and religion (art 18).
Limitations could be imposed on these rights depending on and commensurate to the exigencies of the situation. But these rights are supposed to be respected even in times when the life of the nation is under threat.
President Duterte has been hitting at those criticizing the high death toll of his anti-illegal drug campaign. He has cursed at and called the US government a hypocrite for reminding him to respect human rights. But President Duterte is not at all wrong for calling out the hypocrisy of the US government, considering its drone assassination program and its bloody history of wars of aggression. The thinking that the lives of those it considers as “enemies of the state,” whether terrorists or insurgents, are forfeit and could be dispensed with is contained in the training manuals of the US Armed Forces.
European governments have oftentimes supported the so-called “war on terror” of the US and have themselves their own history of bloody wars of aggressions.
But to call out human rights defenders, blame them for causing the proliferation of drug pushers, if and when the administration is stopped in its war on drugs, and threaten them that they would be included in the bloody anti-drug campaign is misdirected and out of bounds.
First of all, it is not human rights defenders who are the cause of the proliferation of drug pushers. It is poverty, big-time drug lords, and corruption in government.
Second, human rights advocates and defenders are not against the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. They are even for the campaign against illegal drugs for the very same reason why President Duterte is passionate about it: drugs destroy lives.
Human rights defenders and advocates are making a lot of noise in order to protect the fundamental rights of the people being affected by it, specifically their right to life and due process. The Duterte administration could not deny that innocent lives have been affected because of the magnitude and swiftness of the campaign. There are no shortcuts in any campaign. Taking the fastest way would only run roughshod on the people’s rights and result in exactly what the Duterte administration is trying to curb: it will destroy lives.
So on the occasion of International Human Rights Day let us remind the Duterte administration that people have rights that could not be ignored and derogated. Let us also call out the hypocrites who have been oppressing, exploiting and subjecting people to modern-day slavery, but have been hiding their own crimes by pretending to be for human rights.