In the past three years, close to 40 nations have been signing a resolution, initiated by Iceland, expressing concern over the rising number of killings related to President Duterte’s “war on drugs.” Initially they urged the Philippine government to stop the killings and undertake an impartial investigation on these cases.
Subsequently they called on the government to accept a visit by Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on summary or arbitrary executions (“extrajudicial killings” or EJKs to human rights groups), and to facilitate an investigation “without conditions or limitations.” But President Duterte rejected the idea, even threatening to slap Callamard if she insisted on coming to the country, because of some remarks she had made which administration officials interpreted to be bias on her part.
Last Thursday, the 47-member UN Human Rights Council (meeting in its 41st session in Geneva which ends today) adopted the Iceland-initiated resolution by a vote of 18 in favor, 14 opposed, and 15 abstaining.
Essentially, the resolution urges three actions:
• It calls on the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, former Chilean President Michelle Bachelet, to produce a “comprehensive written report” on the human rights situation in the Philippines and present the report to the UNHRC ‘s 44th session for extensive discussion;
• The Philippine government is asked to cooperate with Bachelet’s office by, among others, “facilitating country visits [of UN special rapporteurs] and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation”on human rights defenders; and
• It calls on the government to “take all necessary measures” to prevent EJKs and enforced disappearances, conduct impartial investigations of human rights violations and to “hold perpetrators responsible in accordance with international norms and standards including due process and the rule of law.”
Human rights advocates, both in the country and abroad, welcomed the UNHRC adoption of the resolution.
It was called by Karapatan a “decision on the side of justice… a significant step towards accountability…” seeing it as the start of “close [international] monitoring” that would also move forward other efforts in the Philippines, in Asia and at the international level. The National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) discerned “an initial benchmark victory of sorts in the long and arduous search for justice” that brings a “ray of hope” that the killings will stop and impunity will end.
Human Rights Watch found the resolution as a “modest but vital measure” as it called out the government’s harsh criticisms of Iceland and the other states that supported the resolution. “Countries determined to address the human rights crisis in the Philippines,” it noted, “prevailed in the face of Manila’s ultimately counterproductive efforts to shield itself from scrutiny.”
However, the Philippine government, through Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro L. Locsin Jr., rejected the resolution in an official statement, calling it a “politically partisan and one-sided resolution, so detached from the truth on the ground.” Because of the relatively low number of votes of those who supported the resolution – yet accepted as valid by the UNHRC – Locsin said the resolution was “not universally adopted,” that “its validity is highly questionable.” Moreover, he regarded with contempt the countries which backed the resolution.
The Philippine diplomat lashed out at “western countries” who had committed human rights violations against the peoples they had colonized in the past, for thinking “that the world has forgotten what they did and what should have been done to them had there been a Human Rights Council.” He then accused them of seeking to bring down the Filipinos and the Philippines, with its “unblemished human rights record,” to the level of the “authors of atrocities the world must not forget.”
He likewise insulted the HRV victims and human rights defenders who have been crying out for justice, by claiming that the nations that backed the resolution had been “incited by false information from sources peddling their untruths for money, or who have allowed themselves to be played by the ill will of a few.”
Full-throatedly backing up Duterte’s repeated justifications for the continued killing of mostly poor people suspected of being drug suspects and pushers, Locsin declared: “The Philippines renews its solemn responsibility to protect the law-abiding against the lawless by any means efficient to achieve the defining purpose for the existence and expense of a state. To that responsibility, my President has made an iron, unwavering and total commitment; and it will not be weakened by this ill-fated resolution.”
Nonetheless, the country’s top diplomat didn’t close the door to Philippine participation in future actions by the UNHRC.
“The temptation is strong to walk away from all this with well-deserved contempt for the minority of countries that have the least moral standing to raise their false issues to the discredit of the (UNHRC),” Locsin said. “But the Philippines must remain true to the cause of human rights,” he added, “we will continue to work in the Council to advance a noble mandate to respect, protect and fulfill human rights, and rescue it from its misuse.”
Locsin appeared to have taken the cue from his principal, President Duterte, in a moment of rare soberness. Asked by reporters if he would allow UNHRC representatives to investigate in the Philippines, Duterte inconclusively replied, “Let them state their purpose and I will…” Recall that after the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, in 2017, persisted on conducting a preliminary examination on the drug-related EJKs, Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the ICC. Curiously, it seemed that Duterte wouldn’t dare withdraw the Philippine membership from the UNHRC.
The DFA chief’s rhetoric, however, will not determine the outcome of the UNHRC action. High Commissioner Bachelet – who fought and survived the Pinochet dictatorship – made a statement before that body in March 2018 that set the tone on how matters will go from here.
“The drug policies in place in the Philippines and its lack of respect for the rule of law and international standards,” she declared, “shouldn’t be considered a model for any country.”
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Published in Philippine Star
July 13, 2019