World body checks out holes in Phl HR record

The Philippines signed the landmark International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) on Dec. 6, 1966 and ratified it on Oct. 23, 1986. Adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966, the treaty came into force 10 years later. By December 2018, 172 countries had ratified it.

Note that it took almost 20 years for the Philippines to ratify the treaty: It was signed after a year of the first term of president Ferdinand Marcos Sr., ratified on the eighth month of the Cory Aquino government.

Since April 2008 and every fifth year thereafter, (May 2012, May 2017 and October-November 2022), the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has conducted a process of reviewing the human rights adherence to/compliance with the ICCPR of each member-state. It’s called the Universal Periodic Review (UPR).

All these UPRs showed the Philippines apparently continually falling short of performing its treaty obligations under the ICCPR. This is indicated by the advices (diplomatically termed “requests”) to the government by the UN Human Rights Committee – a body of experts under the UNHRC that carried out the initial UPR on the country last month. In its concluding observations issued last Nov. 4, the Committee asks the government:

• To widely disseminate the ICCPR and its two Optional Protocols, its fourth periodic report submitted to the UNHRC and the committee’s concluding observations among the “judicial, legislative and administrative authorities,” civil society and nongovernmental organizations. It urged the government to ensure that the periodic report and concluding observations are “translated into the official language of the Philippines.”

• By Nov. 4, 2025, to provide information on the implementation of the UNHR Committee’s recommendations on three issues raised: extrajudicial killings (EJKs), conditions of detention and freedom of expression.

On Monday, the UNHRC (composed of UN member-states periodically elected to that body) will convene in Geneva to complete the fourth cycle of the UPR process. A three-nation Working Group will handle the UPR on the Philippines.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla leads the country’s official delegation to the process, while a composite delegation on nongovernmental groups, called the Philippine UPR Watch, will monitor the process and provide its counterpoint report to that of the government.

Led by Karapatan, the national human rights alliance, the UPR Watch stated what it will do:

“We will confirm and validate further to the international community that the Philippine government has reneged on its commitment to respect and uphold the rights of the Filipino people, and that it has perpetrated and institutionalized impunity for human rights violations (HRVs).”

“We are not letting up on the quest to hold the Philippine government accountable for its transgression on people’s rights, past and present,” the UPR Watch vowed.

In its concluding observations on extrajudicial killings, the UNHR Committee registered its concern about reports of the “extremely high number of (EJKs), particularly in the context of the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign and grave (HRVs) involved in these killings, with the majority of the victims being young men from poor and marginalized communities who provide for their families.”

It’s particularly concerned by reports on the following: “incitement to violence” against and (EJKs) of suspected drug offenders by “high-level officials, including the former president [referring to Duterte];” the continued failure of the authorities to “promptly, effectively and independently investigate (EJKs) and to bring the perpetrators to justice,” among others.

Taking note of the government’s “refusal to cooperate with the international human rights mechanisms” and the ongoing investigations of EJKs by the International Criminal Court, the Committee prods the Philippines to put an end to EJKs of suspected drug offenders. It has recommended nine steps toward ending the killings.

On the fight against and past human rights violations (HRVs), the Committee recommends the following:

• Investigate and prosecute “in timely manner all reported cases of (HRVs) and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice, that penalties imposed are commensurate with the severity of the offense and that victims or their family members receive reparation, including adequate compensation, and other legal, medical, psychological and rehabilitation services.”

• Ensure that all victims of past HRVs have adequate access to compensation schemes, including those under the Human Rights Violations Victims Reparation and Recognition Act of 2013, and that victims/relatives who seek justice and redress are “protected against intimidation and harassment.”

• Expedite the establishment of a national transitional justice and reconciliation mechanism for the Bangsamoro that is “in line with international law and standards.”

On counter-terrorism measures, the Committee expresses concern about the Anti-Terrorist Act (ATA) of 2020, in particular the reported “lack of meaningful consultation” at the time of its adoption. Likewise, its “overbroad and vague definition” of terrorism; warrantless arrests and prolonged detention without charges (up to 24 days) of persons suspected as terrorists; the “excessive power” granted to the Anti-Terrorism Council to permit the compilation and publication of personal data of individuals suspects, without judicial oversight, and surveillance over these individuals without notice to them.

The UN Committee strongly frowns on the alleged use of the ATA to “legitimize” the targeting of government critics, human rights defenders and journalists, including through red-tagging, which it says produces “chilling effects” on the exercise of freedom of expression, peaceful assembly and association.

The Committee recommends the review and amendments of the ATA, particularly its Articles 25 and 29, with a view to bringing the law into full compliance with the ICCPR and the principles of “legal certainty, predictability and proportionality.” In the process, there should be “participatory consultations with relevant stakeholders,” including the Commission on Human Rights and civil society organizations.

It also urges “appropriate legal safeguards” for arrested terrorist suspects and “independent, effective and regular monitoring,” including by the CHR, of all places of detention for ATA-related arrested persons, “without prior notice and on an unsupervised basis.”

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Published in Philippine Star
November 12, 2022

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