Philippines wins seat in UN human rights body

Janvic Mateo - The Philippine Star
Philippines wins seat in UN human rights body
Photo shows a general view of the opening day of the 39th UN Council of Human Rights at the UN offices in Geneva earlier this year. (Inset) UN conference officers hold up empty ballot boxes before collecting ballots from delegates at the election of new members of the UN Human Rights Council on Oct. 12 at the UN in New York.

MANILA, Philippines — Despite opposition from an international human rights organization, the Philippines has succeeded in its re-election bid for a seat in the 47-member United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC).

The Philippines, which will end its fourth term at the council this year, will serve a fresh term of three years until 2021. 

It is one of 18 countries, including five from the Asia-Pacific region, that vied without opposition for the seats scheduled to be left vacant this year. 

Malacañang lauded the inclusion, taking it as recognition of the country’s stance in the protection of human rights and zero tolerance against abuses.

Salvador Panelo, presidential spokesman and chief legal counsel, said it only shows that the UN supports the Philippines’ “gigantic” fight against illegal drugs, which he described as a “dragon of destruction.”

“The community of nations has viewed the drug menace as a global problem requiring its utmost attention in forcefully dealing with it and forging a united front against the purveyors of its proliferation across the frontiers of the world. The Philippines is at the forefront of this gigantic fight and is showing the way how to slay the dragon of destruction,” he said.

He added, “The President’s campaign against illegal drugs, corruption and criminality has, in effect, been acknowledged by the international community as essential to the protection of the right to life, liberty and property of every peace-loving and law-abiding citizen of our State.”

Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN in New York and incoming Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. led the Philippine delegation at the UN General Assembly, where members voted for the new council members on Friday evening (Manila time).

The Philippines received 165 out of the 192 votes cast, the second lowest overall and the lowest –along with Bahrain – in the Asia-Pacific region. Other countries in the region were India (188), Fiji (187) and Bangladesh (178).

Eritrea, in the African group, received the lowest number of votes with 160.

Also elected were Burkina Faso (183), Togo (181), Cameroon (176) and Somalia (170) from Africa; Bahamas (180), Uruguay (177) and Argentina (172) from the Americas; Italy (180), Austria (171) and Denmark (167) from Western Europe; and Bulgaria (180) and Czech Republic (178) from Eastern Europe.

With no competition for the seats, candidate countries only needed 97 or the simple majority of the 193-member UN to secure a new term at the HRC.

Outgoing Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano welcomed the re-election of the Philippines, claiming it as a vindication of the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs.

“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,” he 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.

He commended Locsin and Permanent Philippine Representative to the UN in Geneva Evan Garcia for their efforts.

The Commission on Human Rights also welcomed the country’s reelection to the HRC, saying it puts pressure on the Philippine government to address numerous allegations of human rights violations which, according to CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia, include cases of extrajudicial killings.

“The Philippines’ credibility to be part of this body rests on its ability to effect actions that will concretely address these allegations, in line with its mandate to promote, protect and fulfill the human rights of all and not just of a select few,” she said.

De Guia stressed that the “CHR will continue to perform its mandate of helping UN monitor the human rights situation on the ground as the country’s independent national human rights institution.”

A day before the vote, New York-based human rights organization Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on UN member-states not to vote for the Philippines due to alleged human rights violations.

“UN member-countries should show their outrage at the Philippines and Eritrea by leaving two spots on the ballot sheet blank and keeping them off the council,” HRW UN director Louis Charbonneau said, aside from citing the violations in Bahrain and Cameroon.

The group claimed that more than 12,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been gunned down since Duterte took office in July 2016.

Cayetano on Friday slammed HRW and other human rights organizations, including Bagong Alyansang Makabayan, for campaigning against the Philippines, saying these groups’ opposition is only because the country has been instrumental in exposing their moral bankruptcy.

He added that these groups are noisy because they are seeking more funding.

“The reality is, they are for the legalization of illegal drugs and that is a big business. Whether it’s legalizing marijuana, legalizing cocaine, heroin, etc., that’s a multibillion-dollar business. This is the hypocrisy that the Philippines has been opposing at the HRW,” said Cayetano.

He also slammed Iceland, which has been at the forefront of a group of countries that have repeatedly criticized alleged human rights violations in the Philippines, and turned the tables on the European country by accusing it of facing problems on domestic violence.

Magdalo party-list Rep. Gary Alejano criticized the Philippines’ winning a UNHRC seat, saying it was odd when viewed from the thousands that were killed in the fight against illegal drugs.

Phl commitments

In its note verbale to the UN General Assembly, the Philippines highlighted its strong tradition of human rights advocacy in pushing for its candidacy. It also noted achievements in the field of human rights, including passing legislations and implementing policies that protect women and children, persons with disabilities, indigenous peoples and migrant workers.

The country also touted achievements in the fields of human security, education, health, social services, labor and environment.

It made 12 voluntary pledges and commitments should it win a fresh term at the council, including working with states and stakeholders in a constructive manner to foster dialogue and cooperation at the council.

The Philippines also vowed to continue “to focus on bridging national, regional and international human rights goals, standards and strategies” and “to enhance domestic implementation of all human rights treaty obligations and programs, especially with regard to the eradication of extreme poverty, respect for the rule of law and fulfillment of internationally agreed development goals.”  – With Christina Mendez, Rhodina Villanueva, Emmanuel Tupas

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