18-man UN team arriving next week
Rainier Allan Ronda (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2016 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines - The United Nations is sending an 18-man team to the Philippines on Sept. 28-29 to conduct a review of the human rights situation in the country.

The visit was announced amid President Duterte’s constant outbursts at the international community for calling his attention to rising cases of summary executions believed to be carried out by security forces and vigilantes in the conduct of his intensified war against illegal drugs.

The President had even called UN chief Ban Ki-moon a “fool” for voicing
concern over the spate of killings.

The UN experts are from the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. As one of the 164 state signatories to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the Philippines is required to undergo regular review by the UN committee.

It was a “regular thing,” Department of Foreign Affairs spokesman Charles Jose said yesterday of the coming visit by human rights experts.

Jose, in a press briefing, stressed that the review would not cover alleged extrajudicial killings committed in the conduct of the administration’s war on drugs and criminality. He also said they were awaiting further instructions from the President regarding the sending of a letter-invitation to the UN and the European Union to probe the human rights situation in the Philippines.

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the ICESCR and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). These treaties, together with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, form the International Bill of Rights. A campaign by the UN Human Rights Office, entitled “Our Rights, Our Freedoms, Always,” is running throughout the year to promote and raise awareness of the two treaties, focusing on the timeless themes of rights and freedoms, in particular freedom from fear, of speech, of worship and freedom from want.

Aside from the Philippines, other states being reviewed by the UN are Costa Rica, Cyprus, Poland, Tunisia, Lebanon and the Dominican Republic.

The findings are expected to be published on Oct. 11.

Senators, meanwhile, weighed in on President Duterte’s invitation to the UN and the EU and his challenging their representatives to a debate.

Senate President Aquilino Pimentel III said Duterte’s statement was “very good because it shows openness.”

“He’s willing to engage them on the issue of human rights so that they could raise their issues or concerns directly (with him),” Pimentel said in a telephone interview.

“But this is also a chance for him to do the same, to raise his issues as well. This has to be a two-way street, a dialogue,” he said.

The senator said Duterte’s language and tone in challenging the UN and EU officials to a debate did not mean he was picking a fight with them.

He said in international circles, a debate meant a lively discussion “to speak out and air their opinions.”

He said a lot of people and the international community will have to get used to Duterte’s communication style, even as he pointed out the President won by a landslide despite being known for using colorful language.

Sen. Juan Edgardo Angara welcomed Duterte’s pronouncements, saying it was “certainly a friendlier approach” in dealing with the international community on the issue of alleged human rights violations and extrajudicial killings.

Sen. Sherwin Gatchalian said it would be best for the UN and EU to send a delegation to observe and survey the matter first hand.

“For me, the most important aspect of this drive against illegal drugs is the sentiment of the people. The UN and EU should talk to the people instead of using international press to pressure our government,” Gatchalian said.

‘Not serious’

Sen. Panfilo Lacson, however, thought Duterte was not really serious about his invitation as indicated by his proposal to also question UN and EU investigators in a public venue like in the Senate.

“Unless the UN and EU bite the challenge and both sides agree on the terms of the investigation and interpellation, nothing will come out of it,” Lacson said in a text message.

Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto III expressed doubts the UN and EU would accept the challenge.

Sen. Leila de Lima, a vocal critic of Duterte, expressed dismay over how he viewed the issues of human rights and extrajudicial killings as well as the concern of the international community.

She said UN special rapporteurs do not go to countries with human rights violations issues to engage in debates “because the issue of human rights is not debatable.”

“Human rights have been declared inalienable by the whole world right after the Second World War. To question human rights now will just reflect how far the government has regressed in its compliance with its international obligation to uphold all human rights treaties it has signed,” De Lima said.

The Department of Trade and Industry (DTI), for its part, said the government’s war on drugs would not have any effect on foreign investor confidence in the Philippines.

Trade Secretary Ramon Lopez told reporters the government’s foreign counterparts continue to signal their willingness to pursue and enhance trade relations with the country, despite concerns over alleged violation of human rights as a result of the administration’s war on drugs. – Paolo Romero, Mary Grace Padin

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