“Whether they like it or not, the government is responsible for human rights. Not the UN Special Rapporteurs, the civil society. This is the responsibility that they all (States) have signed.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
MANILA – The Philippine government has an obligation to protect and uphold the human rights of its citizen, the United Nations experts on Friday, June 26.
Mary Lawlor, UN Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders, and Clement Voule, Special Rapporteur on freedom of assembly and association underscored that the Philippines as a signatory to treaties protecting human rights, is obliged to abide by these treaties.
In webinar organized by the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (EcuVoice) and other international rights groups, both Lawlor and Voule dismissed Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s accusation that the UN experts are biased against President Duterte’s government.
Roque made the statement after the 31 UN independent experts issued their call for member States of the Human Rights Council (HRC) to sanction the Philippine government officials who “committed, incited, or failed to prevent human rights abuses.”
Voule said that part of their job as Special Rapporteur is to inform the HRC of their findings on the ground and to ensure that the State is aware of it.
He said that the government can better use their expertise if they would only invite these experts in the country to see and implement some of the recommendations that they are putting forward.
“I don’t think the situation will improve in the context where all we are seeing is completely rejected without the proper investigation from the government to know what is going on on the ground, he said.
The Special Rapporteurs are independent experts appointed by the by the United Nations Human Rights Council with the “mandate to monitor, advise and publicly report on human rights situations in specific countries and on human rights violations worldwide.”
Several Special Rapporteurs have conducted country visits to the Philippines to gather information about the human rights situation in the country. Then Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial summary or arbitrary executions Philip Alston visited the Philippines and looked into the human rights abuses under the administration of then President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
The recent comprehensive report of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights has found serious rights abuses committed with “near impunity.” Part of its recommendation is to conduct “prompt, impartial, thorough, transparent investigations into all killings, and into alleged violations of international humanitarian law.”
For Lawlor, the role of the Special Rapporteurs as well as the civil society actors and human rights defenders is to “try to let not the government not to get away (from accountability).”
“Whether they like it or not, the government is responsible for human rights. Not the UN Special Rapporteurs, the civil society. This is the responsibility that they all (States) have signed,” she said.
Voule also said that the Philippines, as a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, has responsibility to protect its citizens, to guarantee and uphold their rights.
He said that while it is true the UN has no enforcement mechanism, the Philippines as part of the international body is bound to implement the treaties it signed.
“It is also important the any State show their willingness to uphold the principle and value that the international community protects,” he said.
The comprehensive report of the OHCHR will be presented on the UNHRC on its 44th regular session this June 30 to July 20 in Geneva, Switzerland.
Meanwhile, Lawlor encouraged the civil society groups like Karapatan to continue advancing human rights and engaging the international community. She also commended Karapatan’s long history of protecting human rights of the Filipinos.
“You have a right to do this work. It is legitimate. It’s in the interest of building civil and just society,” said Lawlor.
Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan, vowed that they will remain vigilant and will continue to maximize all platforms to seek justice and accountability.