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Darker, dangerous nations: UN rights chief shocked by Rody

“In the Philippines, I continue to be gravely concerned by the President’s open support for a shoot-to-kill policy regarding suspects, as well as by the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings and the failure to prosecute any perpetrator,” Zeid said in his report titled “Darker and more dangerous: High Commissioner updates the Human Rights Council on human rights issues in 40 countries.” UN

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippines has landed among countries with “darker and more dangerous” human rights situations, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reported on Monday.

At the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Zeid, who is also a prince in Jordan, said he was concerned over President Duterte’s lack of respect for Filipinos’ right to due process.

“In the Philippines, I continue to be gravely concerned by the President’s open support for a shoot-to-kill policy regarding suspects, as well as by the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings and the failure to prosecute any perpetrator,” Zeid said in his report titled “Darker and more dangerous: High Commissioner updates the Human Rights Council on human rights issues in 40 countries.”

Malacañang expressed “deep concern” over the report last night as presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella cautioned Zeid for issuing statements without factual basis.

“We are deeply concerned with the UNHCR Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s sweeping statements during the UNHR Council’s 36th session, citing instances bereft of factual basis,” Abella said in a statement.

Zeid cited the killing of Kian Loyd delos Santos, who was dragged into an alley and shot in the head by a policeman on Aug. 16, later described by Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II as “an isolated case.”

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“However, suspicion of extrajudicial killings has now become so widespread that the initials EJK have reportedly become a verb in some communities – as in ‘he was EJKed’,” Zeid added.

Two days after hundreds of people turned out for the teenager’s funeral, the high commissioner said the President again told police they would not be punished for killing suspects who resist arrest. 

“This lack of respect for the due process rights of all Filipinos is appalling,” Zeid stressed.

The UN is deeply concerned about the impact of the government’s war on drugs on Filipinos.

Abella countered this, saying “the objective of the President’s campaign against illegal drugs is to preserve the lives of the Filipino people, to prevent the destruction of Filipino families and to protect the Philippines from becoming a narco-state.”

Zeid expressed shock with Duterte’s threat to bomb schools for indigenous children in southern Philippines, which teach children to rebel against the government, and the order for policemen to shoot any human rights worker who obstructs justice as part of the drug trade.

He said this “is yet another blow to his country’s reputation and his people’s rights.” 

But the Palace contradicted the accusation, saying Duterte only blurted the statement out of his anger at the New People’s Army, and that it would be better for the UN to focus on the administration’s effort to educate the indigenous people.

Abella added that the statement relating to human rights workers  “referred to activists who aid or abet acts of violence during legitimate police operations where authorities have the right of self-defense.”

Zeid also remained concerned about the case of Sen. Leila de Lima, the highest profile critic of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign, having condemned the government’s drug war and who was arrested in February over drug charges.

But this was dismissed by Abella, who denied that the arrest was politically motivated.

“The incarceration of the lady senator is due to criminal, not political issues,” he said, adding that the case is now with the courts.

As many human rights defenders face a growing number of death threats, Zeid called on the government to ensure they are accorded full protection and the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without reprisals. 

Zeid also noted that measures taken toward a reintroduction of the death penalty are a step backwards.

The high commissioner urged the government to uphold the Philippines’ international human rights obligations, amid deeper reflection about the values the country stands for.

Abella questioned “Mr. Al Hussein’s broad references about the supposed policies of the President run counter to what he continues to pronounce.”

He added that Duterte “has categorically and repeatedly said that there is no shoot-to-kill order” and that all the killings related to drugs are “subject to investigations.”

Aside from Philippine issues, the UN human rights body also reported on those affecting North Korea, Myanmar, Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, China, Vietnam, Cambodia, Maldives, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Egypt, Bahrain, Iran, Venezuela, Brazil, Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Moldova, Hungary, Libya, Turkey, Sudan, Burundi, Sudan and Ethiopia.

40 days of prayer

Meanwhile, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines (CBCP) president and Lingayen-Dagupan Archbishop Socrates Villegas yesterday called on the Catholic faithful to offer 40 days of prayer and lighting of candles for the victims of senseless killings and those killed in Marawi City.

He also asked the faithful to contribute to the support and schooling of those orphaned because of the killings. 

In his two-page statement titled “Lord Heal Our Land,” Villegas said the victims of EJKs and those who died in Marawi City should not be treated as mere statistics. 

“The nation must beat its breast in a collective admission of guilt for in our silence and in our inaction, in our diffidence and in our hesitation lie our complicity in their deaths,” the archbishop stressed.

“We are appalled by the remorselessness by which even the young are executed. The relentless and bloody campaign against drugs that shows no sign of abating impels us your bishops to declare: in the name of God, stop the killings! May the justice of God come upon those responsible for the killings,” Villegas added.

The CBCP president asked the faithful to offer prayers for 40 days from Sept. 23 until Nov. 1 (All Saints’ Day), and offer the prayers to those killed in the government’s campaign against drugs and those who died in Marawi.

With the approval of the diocesan bishops, he said the pealing of church bells should be at 8 p.m. during the 40-day period. – With Christina Mendez, Evelyn Macairan, Jess Diaz, Elizabeth Marcelo

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