HRW exec: Drug war 'travesty of basic human dignity' pushing Manila to 'disrepute'

Audrey Morallo - Philstar.com
HRW exec: Drug war 'travesty of basic human dignity' pushing Manila to 'disrepute'

The Philippines' war on drugs is a "travesty of basic human dignity" putting Manila into "disrepute," according to an official of Human Rigths Watch. AFP/Noel Celis, File

MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte's ferocious campaign to eradicate illegal drugs in the country is a "travesty of basic human dignity" that is pushing the Philippines to international "disrepute," and Manila should immediately take measures to arrest this downward spiral, according to an official of Human Rights Watch in Geneva.

According to John Fisher, the group's advocacy director in Switzerland, Duterte's drug war, which he described as a "murderous campaign," is a "shame" for the government and all people who love the Philippines.

"What the government is doing is bringing the country into disrepute through the conduct of this murderous war on drugs," he told Philstar.com in an interview over the weekend.

He stated that the Philippines had been on a downward spiral in terms of its human rights situation since this was first reviewed in 2008 and looked into again in 2012.

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"There's no question that the Philippines is on a tragic downward spiral. It really is concerned not just in the international community but also those who are about the country as well," he said.

According to Fisher, the Philippines has an obligation to uphold human rights and subject itself to the processes of the United Nations since it's a member of the body's Human Rights Council.

It was an ironic situation for a HRC council member such as the Philippines to have a leader in Duterte who openly boasted in the past about violation of human rights standards and disregard for the international law, according to Fisher.

He said that Manila should reconsider this position and reminded the government that its membership in the human rights body entailed responsibility.

"So you have a president who is boasting about the violation of international human rights standards and at the same time the Philippines itself is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and with that membership comes responsibility to uphold international law and to cooperate with the UN and its mechanisms," Fisher said.

Fisher said that with the brutal campaign Philippine officials were violating the right to life in "the most base way possible."

The right to life is one of the fundamental rights of a person, according to the UN Human Rights Declaration which was instituted in the aftermath of the atrocities committed during the Second World War.

The HRW official said that the country could face serious consequences if it continued to renege on its international obligations regarding human rights and UN mechanisms.

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When asked if the Philippines could be ousted from the Human Rights Council, he said, "That is a pretty clear warning to the government that if doesn't start cooperating with the UN system, if it doesn't change tracks and take steps to end the killings and to comply with its international human rights obligations it could well face those kinds of consequences."

If the Philippines is booted out of the human rights body, this will be a "huge embarrassment," he said, reminding government officials that membership in the council is not a right but a privilege.

The country is failing in its responsibilities by waging the deadly war on drugs and denying access to UN special rapporteurs who will look into allegations of extrajudicial killings in the country, according to the HRW official.

"It's turning its back on the council and its mechanisms," he said.

The HRW official was on a visit to the country recently and had meetings with some human rights groups and families of victims of drug-related deaths.

Fisher said that it was "quite extraordinary" for 39 countries to express concern over drug-connected killings just after the Philippines submitted its report detailing its response to the recommendations provided during the 3rd Universal Periodic Review of its human rights situation.

He said that this showed that these member-states were not satisfied with the government's response.

According to Fisher, most of the 154 recommendations rejected by Manila were practical solutions that could end the rising number of killings and hold responsible people accountable.

"If you look at which ones the Philippines rejected, it was all of the most fundamental ones about ending violations of the right to life," he said during the interview.

Fisher added that if the Philippines continued down this path it would face further international scrutiny which could involve UN-initiated probes, cases at the International Criminal Court and changes in its bilateral relations with some nations.

READ: DFA chief: Philippines ready to welcome human rights probe

Economic sanctions can also be imposed, but these depend on individual nations, he clarified.

"Tragically, what we are seeing in the Philippines is a government that openly expresses contempt for the right to life and enabling people to be killed with impunity," he said.

READ: Palace justifies rejection of UN recommendations

Duterte is also not helping the country's reputation on the international stage as he has openly said his disregard for human rights and international law in the past, according to Fisher.

The president has also vowed to shield security officers who would be sued for pursuing his campaign, a central plank of his platform which catapulted him to the presidency last year, according to the HRW official.

He warned the government and its officials that the growing "chorus of concern" was not likely to dissipate soon.

"What has become a number of expressions of concern is now becoming a growing chorus, and that is something that can't be denied. It's not going to go away either. the Philippines needs to hear those expressions of concern," he said.

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