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45 UNHRC members call for end to killings

After hearing the Duterte administration defend the conduct of its war on drugs, representatives of 45 of the 47 nations gathered in Geneva for a review of the country’s human rights record emerged apparently unconvinced, as they called on the government to end extrajudicial killings and to withdraw its plans to revive the death penalty. AP/Bullit Marquez, File

After hearing the Duterte administration defend the conduct of its war on drugs, representatives of 45 of the 47 nations gathered in Geneva for a review of the country’s human rights record emerged apparently unconvinced, as they called on the government to end extrajudicial killings and withdraw its plan to revive the death penalty.

The recommendations were part of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group’s report on the Philippines.

The review – covering all UN-member countries – is done every four years. The 47 countries are members of the council.

The countries that expressed concern over the human rights situation in the Philippines are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Botswana, Brazil, Bulgaria, Canada, Chile, Costa Rica, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Georgia, Germany, Ghana, Guatemala, Haiti, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Montenegro, Mozambique, the Netherlands, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Moldova, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United States, Uruguay, the Vatican and Zambia.

But China praised the Philippine government for its “remarkable achievements in protecting human rights.” Saudi Arabia, being council chair, abstained.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) announced yesterday the adoption of the report on the Philippines.

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The Philippines received a total of 257 recommendations – the highest – from among the participating states. Recommendations after review averaged 220.

Extrajudicial killings, the death penalty and human trafficking were the core issues on which the recommendations were based.

From the US, the recommendation was for the Philippines to ensure that all counter-narcotics operations are conducted in conformity to constitutional protections and international human rights obligations.

Zambia recommended that the Philippines ensure human rights standards are observed in the campaign against illegal drugs, while Costa Rica asked that steps be taken by the Philippines to put an end to extrajudicial executions, enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and acts of torture perpetrated by law enforcers or private groups.

France recommended that measures be taken immediately to stop extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions as well as prosecute the perpetrators of killings and other forms of violence.

Spain said necessary mechanisms must be established by the Philippines to eradicate extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions by bringing perpetrators to justice and by intensifying efforts to eradicate the use of torture and inhumane and degrading treatment.

Strengthening of efforts to stop extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances in the country was recommended by Poland.

“Put an end to extrajudicial killings, including those related to the ‘war on drugs,’ enforced disappearances, illegal arrests and detention, torture, harassment and other human rights violations,” Slovakia said in its recommendation.

The Netherlands also strongly urged the Philippines to take immediate steps to stop extrajudicial killings and to conduct an independent and impartial inquiry into all enforced disappearances and extrajudicial killings.

Lithuania said the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings should be invited to visit the country without conditions.

Canada said there should be clear criminal prohibitions against extrajudicial killings.

Germany proposed that necessary measures be taken to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. It also cited the importance of impartial investigations to hold perpetrators accountable.

France, Germany, Ghana, Hungary and Latvia also recommended that the Philippines accept “without prior condition” the request for a visit by UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard, and “cooperate with her fully.”

In urging the Duterte administration not to revive the death penalty, the 45 countries reminded him of the Philippines’ being a party to the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

The Philippines has until the 36th session of the Human Rights Council in September this year to submit its official position on the recommendations formulated during an interactive dialogue.

No redefinition

There has been no redefinition of the term “extrajudicial killings,” contrary to claims of incoming foreign secretary Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano before the UNHRC recently, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said yesterday.

“We did not change the definition. What was mentioned in the definition of Administrative Order 35 just represents a prioritization of extrajudicial killings that were happening at the time,” CHR commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said.

Cayetano made the claim on Monday to defend the Duterte administration’s human rights record before the UNHRC in Geneva.

The senator said “alternative facts” were being presented to portray the administration’s war against illegal drugs in a bad light.

“(The order) signed by then president Benigno Aquino III defined EJKs as the killing of the members or advocates of cause-oriented organizations like labor, environment or media activists, resulting in very low number of supposed EJKs in the past administration,” said Cayetano.

“However, for the current administration, a different definition is being used. EJK now refers to any death outside of those caused by natural causes, accidents or those ordered by the courts,” he added.

In her reaction, Dumpit stressed the use of the term extrajudicial killings is based on international standards.

“Right now we know that the situation has changed. We were not responsible for any change in definition, we always anchor our statements and terms in accordance with international standards,” she added.

She called on the government to heed the recommendations of other governments and ensure that all cases are fully investigated.

“We want to see results this time. It’s one thing to see the numbers, but we’d like to see names behind those numbers. We’d like to see the cases filed behind those numbers,” said Dumpit.

Sen. Francis Escudero, meanwhile, questioned the basis used by CHR chairman Chito Gascon for claiming there were state-sponsored killings under the Duterte administration.

Escudero said Gascon based his observation simply on Duterte’s colorful language.

The senator said the number of deaths recorded in the past administration was not that far off from the total under Duterte.

“If you will look at it closely, the only basis used by Chairman Gascon of the CHR for why these are state-sponsored is the statements made by President Duterte,” Escudero said.

Unlike the previous administration, Duterte had repeatedly declared war against drugs – including his intention to kill or have drug offenders killed.

“But that often by itself does not make it state-sponsored. That often by itself, meaning a tough talking president, does not automatically make him a human rights violator unless proof is shown that indeed he is involved directly in any such order to kill extra-judicially any suspect or any person,” Escudero said.

But the senator emphasized the Duterte administration should not just ignore the concerns raised by the international community.

He also said it does not help that the country’s representatives in the UPR are engaging in debates before an international forum, citing Gascon and Cayetano.

“He (Gascon) does not say much while he is here, then he starts complaining when he is in another country. He would be better off being an activist here and not airing our dirty laundry in public in the international community at that,” Escudero said.

Sen. Richard Gordon, for his part, said the government is already addressing the issue of EJKs.

“We have investigated EJKs. What I request is that those who say that there are EJKs and there are a lot of EJKs, to do something about it,” Gordon said. – With Marvin Sy

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