Philippines Foreign Minister Alan Peter Cayetano addresses the 73rd session of the United Nations General Assembly, Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018 at U.N. headquarters.
AP/Mary Altaffer
Cayetano hails Philippines’ uncontested election to UN rights body
( - October 13, 2018 - 2:48pm

MANILA, Philippines (Update 2, 6:20 p.m.) — The Philippines’ successful bid to win a seat in the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) shows member-states remain “convinced” that the government respects human rights, the country’s top diplomat said Saturday, amid simmering criticisms from rights groups.

Around a third of seats on the 47-member council, based in Geneva, were open for slots lasting from 2019-2022. A 97-vote majority from the 193 nations that make up the UN's General Assembly is needed for approval.

For the first time since the council was created in 2006, each voting region agreed in advance on 18 candidates to be in the running for 18 seats — removing any competition.

New members that ran uncontested, including the Philippines, were elected with between 160 and 178 votes — and immediately drew criticism from activists in Europe and North America dismissing them as "unqualified" due to their human rights records.

“Our election to another term in the Human Rights Council would not have been possible without the support of other UN member-states who clearly understood where we are coming from,” Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said in a statement.

“Our successful bid to keep our seat in the Council is proof that many in the international community remain convinced the Philippines respects and protects human rights and have seen through the efforts of some to politicize and weaponize the issue,” Cayetano added.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte—who is notorious for his defiance of international pressure— has stoked alarm for unleashing his signature anti-narcotic drive, which has killed thousands of mostly urban poor Filipinos.

The 47-nation global rights body has repeatedly condemned the recent spate of killings and has called on Philippine authorities to allow the UN to probe the country’s human rights situation without preconditions or limitations.

Hours before the controversial vote, New York-based Human Rights Watch wrote a letter to the UN asking member-states to keep the Philippines and other nations “undergoing a human rights crisis” off the council.

For its part, the Commission on Human Rights welcomed the Philippines’ election to the UNHRC, but pointed out that earning a seat in the council “puts pressure on the Philippine government to address numerous allegations of human rights violations.”

Cayetano retaliates

Meanwhile, HRW’s sharp criticism did not sit well with Cayetano, who accused the 40-year-old international rights group of “loudly criticizing” the Philippines to solicit more funds from donors.

Cayetano also hit back at Iceland, which has been spearheading European criticism in the UNHRC against Manila’s campaign against illegal drugs.

“Do you know the number one human rights problem in Iceland? It’s domestic violence,” Cayetano said.

“Iceland keeps on criticizing us when kind of violence there is at home, which is the worst kind of violence because you home is supposed to be your castle,” he added.

The United States pulled out of the council in June, calling the organization a "hypocritical" body that "makes a mockery of human rights," in particular in regard to its stance on Israel.

Nikki Haley, who this week announced her resignation as US ambassador to the UN, said Friday's vote demonstrates why the US was right to withdraw. — Ian Nicolas Cigaral with AFP

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