A league of his own

Even if he’s serious about it, President Rodrigo Duterte’s offer for the Philippines to host a high-level meeting, or summit, on human rights is unlikely to materialize. The leaders of those countries accused of human rights violations would hardly welcome an assembly in which the details of their crimes against humanity and other transgressions will get a global airing.

To be true to its name, such a summit would necessarily include Mr. Duterte’s new-found friends, the leaders of China and Russia, and the president of this country’s long-time overlord, the United States. Like the Philippines, all three countries have also been accused of human rights violations.

Ruled by a clique from a so-called communist party that has restored capitalism and which is currently aping its imperialist cohorts, China has been suppressing freedom of speech and expression, imprisoning dissenters, and condemning people to death for certain crimes. It is also accused of restricting free movement, repressing Christian and other religious groups, and of harassing and even arresting human rights defenders and lawyers.

The Russian Federation (RF) is bound by the international agreements entered into by the former Union of Soviet Socialist Republics (USSR). But under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, say human rights defenders, violations of such conventions as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights as well as of the Federation Constitution itself have surged, among them government intimidation of the press and media; police torture of persons in their custody; discrimination; racism; abductions; and violations of the right to life through extrajudicial killings including those of journalists.

Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that receive foreign funding are compelled to register as foreign agents. NGOs can be branded as undesirable and their members fined and imprisoned. Political assassinations are also rampant, with most of them unsolved. The right to a fair trial by political prisoners has also been violated, as has freedom of assembly and association, which are rights guaranteed by the RF Constitution.

The United States under the presidency of Donald Trump has seen a rise in racism and violence against blacks, Jews, and Muslims, encouraged, according to Amnesty International, by Trump’s statements against Mexicans, “radical Islam,” and immigrants.

Trump has prevented those individuals who are being persecuted for their political and religious beliefs from seeking asylum in the US. He has denied protection for LGBTs (lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, and transgenders), labeled the US press “the enemy” and as purveyors of “fake news,” and expressed hostility to dissent and free expression. He justified the attacks by neo-Nazi and white supremacist groups on the civil rights activists who were peacefully demonstrating in Boston, Massachusetts against racism last August. And as Mr. Duterte’s spokesmen have trumpeted, he also expressed approval of the regime’s anti-illegal drugs campaign that has claimed thousands of lives including those of children.

Despite a White House announcement last October that he would bring up human rights issues with Mr. Duterte during their one-on-one meeting in the ASEAN summit this November, Trump did not raise US concern over the thousands of extrajudicial killings that have accompanied the drug “war.”

In addition to the Philippines, such other members of the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) as Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam have also been in violation of human rights.

Since August this year, Burmese security forces have been targeting the Rohingya Muslims, and committing rapes, looting, and massacres against the community, which have forced more than half a million Rohingya to flee their homes. Neither the party in power nor opposition groups have opposed the atrocities, or even acknowledged them. Human rights groups have described the outrage as a crime against humanity.

A coup d’etat in 2014 placed Thailand under the rule of a military junta which has abolished the National Assembly and usurped legislative powers. Even before the coup, criticism of the king and the royal family was prohibited. Web sites and blogs found guilty of lese majeste (undermining the dignity of the “royals”) have been taken down and the press and free expression subjected to government control.

In Cambodia, the government of Prime Minister Hung Sen, who has been in power for over three decades, is suppressing dissent and the political opposition. The ruling party has used various means to remain in control, among them threats, bribes, and trumped-up charges against critics, particularly those from the opposition party. The regime has also shut down newspapers, stopped radio broadcasts, and harassed human rights activists.

There are over a hundred political prisoners in Vietnam accused of various crimes whose real offense is their being critical of the government. Criticism of the ruling party — another one that’s communist in name but capitalist in purpose ± and the government is forbidden. Similarly banned are human rights organizations, independent political parties, and labor unions. Religious groups are regularly monitored; public gatherings cannot be held without government approval.

But in none of these Southeast Asian countries is there the same record, over a short 16-month period, as that of the Philippines’ Duterte regime in the number of extrajudicial killings, estimated by human rights groups at over 12,000, that have characterized its anti-drug “war” that has mostly victimized the poor. That record is four times the number of EJKs estimated to have occurred during the 14 years of the Marcos terror regime, and nearly 10 times that of the nearly decade-long watch of Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

Mr. Duterte has also tried to intimidate human rights defenders and lawyers, and encouraged the police to eliminate drug users and pushers by promising them immunity from prosecution. He has also gone to the extent of urging the police to plant guns on suspects to justify their killing. He has threatened to follow in the footsteps of his idol and mentor, Ferdinand Marcos, Sr., by placing the entire country under martial law.

The would-be host of the human rights summit he has proposed is obviously in a human rights violators’ league that’s uniquely his own.

As Amnesty International’s Philippine Director Butch Olano pointed out, because of the human rights situation in the Philippines, the regime has no moral authority to host such a summit.

“You can’t invite guests to your house if your house is dirty. You should clean up first,” Olano declared.

But will Mr. Duterte “clean up” by, say, putting a stop to the drug-related killings and the assassination of Lumad and farmer leaders, prosecuting those responsible, and focusing on the rehabilitation of drug users rather than on their elimination? Will he stop his attacks on the media and affirm the democratic imperatives of free expression and press freedom and declare once and for all that he recognizes the dangers to human rights of placing the Philippines under martial law, and renounce it as a regime option?

The likely answer is a big, fat “no.”

By publicizing the human rights record of other countries, a human rights summit, Mr. Duterte apparently hopes, would prove his claim that he’s being singled out for criticism by human rights groups. It would also demonstrate how much worse the violations in other countries are.

But the summit Mr. Duterte would host will do neither.

As the above accounts of the state of human rights in various countries gleaned from human rights groups’ reports prove, these organizations including the UN Human Rights Council have criticized and called for action not only against the Philippines, but also against other countries that violate human rights. And what has happened and is happening in most Southeast Asian countries, with the exception of Burma, pale in comparison to what’s happening in this archipelago of fear, where the Duterte regime is disgracefully validating every oppressor’s and dictator’s dismissal of Constitutions and their Bill of Rights provisions as mere scraps of paper. Mr. Duterte’s proposed human rights summit will not serve his or any other tyrant’s purpose.

Luis V. Teodoro is on Facebook and Twitter (@luisteodoro). The views expressed in Vantage Point are his own and do not represent the views of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.


Published in Business World
Nov. 17, 2017

Featured image courtesy of Presidential Communications (Government of the Philippines) Facebook page.

Share This Post