This photo taken on June 27, 2019, shows policemen at the crime scene where the body of a barangay (inner city neighbourhood) health worker and former drug surrenderee Michael Oescayno, lies on the ground after unidentified gunmen.
AFP/Noel Celis
Not a criminal probe: UN 'drug war' reso only seeks rights review
Gaea Katreena Cabico ( - July 12, 2019 - 12:12pm

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 12:58 p.m) — Human rights groups in the Philippines and abroad hailed the adoption of a resolution for the United Nations to review the thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs, calling it a critical step toward accountability.

But the resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council during its 41st session Thursday fell short of setting up a full-fledged investigation into alleged abuses.

The resolution—the first ever on the Philippines—requires UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to prepare a “comprehensive” report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. Bachelet is expected to report her findings to the council’s 44th session in June 2020.

Activists said the resolution sought a report instead of an inquiry to win the support of the majority.

The UNHRC on Thursday narrowly approved the resolution tabled by Iceland—18 voted in favor and 14 against, with 15 abstentions.

In remarks on Thursday night, President Rodrigo Duterte played down the development, saying he doubts any case would prosper, especially if it would be based on revelations made by detained Sen. Leila de Lima.

"My only question before wala. A court if I be called in, ‘Ms. De Lima, are you a moral person?’ Then I will show you some clips. ‘Is this how you remain moral?’ Now, sige sabihin ko sa mga ano…," Duterte added, referring to an alleged sex video of De Lima that the president and other members of the Cabinet claim to have watched.

UN rights chief to prepare report

But the UN resolution does not launch an actual international investigation into the alleged rights abuses. Instead, it mandates a review that will monitor situations on the ground, establish facts and give recommendations.

UN human rights officers are expected to interview victims and their families, witnesses of alleged human rights violations as well as government officials.

"What the Human Rights Council said is we’re giving the United Nations a mandate to go in the Philippines and establish facts and the Philippines should cooperate," Wilnor Papa, Amnesty International campaign coordinator, said in an interview on ABS-CBN News Channel.

The report will also set the stage for follow-up action if abuses continue unabated.

Last July 4, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights published a report on the human rights situation in Venezuela. The 16-page document urged the Venezuelan government to take immediate and concrete measures to halt and remedy the grave violations of economic, social, civil, political and cultural rights documented in the country.

A report on the situation in Kashmir released on July 8 noted that neither India nor Pakistan have taken any concrete steps to improve human rights situation in the area.  

Commissions of inquiry

International commission of inquiry and international fact-finding mission, on the other hand, are tasked with investigating allegations of violations of international human rights, international humanitarian law or international criminal law.

These commissions or missions provide historical record of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, and influence changes in law and practice to advance human rights.

They also assist in ensuring accountability for serious violations, promote compliance with the law and provide avenues of justice and redress for victims. They have furnished elements to inquiries of ad hoc tribunals and of the International Criminal Court.

The preliminary examination of the ICC into the anti-drug crackdown is still ongoing despite the country’s withdrawal from the Hague-based tribunal last March. An examination, which is different from investigation, aims to determine if the court has jurisdiction over the case.

A 'modest' step forward

But the human rights community believes the comprehensive review—while a “modest measure”—signals the start of accountability.

"This vote provides hope for thousands of bereaved families in the Philippines and countless more Filipinos bravely challenging the Duterte administration’s murderous 'war on drugs.' It’s a crucial step toward justice and accountability," Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said the resolution will initiate a close monitoring on the rights situation in the country.

"Other efforts domestically, regionally and internationally will likewise move forward, the aggregate of which will expectedly bring out the changes in policy and in leadership that prioritizes human and people’s rights," Palabay said.

She added: "This is not the end-all, be-all of our efforts to exact accountability, but we take it as a critical start and this is a decision on the side of justice."

The Commission on Human Rights said it is ready to assist UN personnel in this endeavor.

The Philippines has rejected the resolution, calling it an intrusion on its sovereignty.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said Thursday that the government "renews its solemn responsibility to protect the law-abiding against the lawless by any means efficient to achieve the defining purpose for the existence and expense of a state."

"The responsibility to protect starts with protecting the good against the bad, the innocent against the vicious," he also said. — with a report from Agence France-Presse

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