UN experts: Rights situation in Philippines requires 'robust' intervention by UN
Activist groups troop to University of the Philippines Diliman to oppose the proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.
Philstar.com/Efigenio Christopher Toledo IV

UN experts: Rights situation in Philippines requires 'robust' intervention by UN

Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - June 26, 2020 - 9:26am

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights experts once again called on the United Nation’s Human Rights Council to establish an on-the ground international investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.

In a statement Thursday, the experts said the report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights confirmed their warnings that there are widespread and systemic killings in the government’s war on drugs, abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, and attempt to silence the press and the opposition in the Philippines.

“Given the scale and seriousness of the human rights violations, we renew our call on the Human Rights Council to establish an on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation into the human rights violations in the Philippines,” the experts said.

The Human Rights Council, which is made up of 47 UN member states, is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for addressing situations of human rights violations and make recommendations on them.

Last year, it mandated UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to prepare a comprehensive report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines. Bachelet will present the report at the council’s 44th session on June 30.

Aside from conducting an independent probe, the experts urged the Human Rights Council to strengthen the mandate of the UN rights office to continue its monitoring of the situation in the Philippines and call on the International Criminal Court to fasttrack and prioritize the completion of its preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines has now reached a level of gravity requiring robust intervention by the UN. The Human Rights Council must do everything in its power to prevent the continuation of widespread and systematic human rights abuse against the Philippines people,” they said.

Fatou Bensouda, chief prosecutor of the ICC, earlier said her office is seeking to finalize its preliminary examination this year. A preliminary examination is not the same as a preliminary investigation and is mainly concerned with evaluating whether the ICC has jurisdiction over the allegations.

Latest government figures put the number of alleged drug personalities killed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs at 5,601. But it is significantly lower than the estimates by human rights watchdogs of as many as 27,000 killed. 

COVID-19 boosted ‘downward spiral’ of rights situation

The UN experts also said the coronavirus disease pandemic has “further accelerated the downward spiral of human rights situation in the Philippines.”

Areas in the Philippines have been under varying forms of community quarantines since mid-March to contain the spread of the virus that has so far sickened 33,069 people.

During the months-long quarantine, there was a heightened presence of uniformed personnel to enforce quarantine procedures, prompting critics to voice concerns on the heavy-handed measures imposed by the government.

“Police and the military have used violence and lethal force to enforce a quarantine imposed without due consideration for the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” the experts said.

The UN experts also warned against the government’s attempt to fasttrack the passage of the controversial anti-terrorism bill, which they said would “further dilute human rights safeguards.”

“Thousands in the Philippines have been killed as the direct result of the government policies. Domestic mechanisms responsible for ensuring accountability and protecting the rule of law have failed to do so,” the UN experts said.

“We call on Member States to initiate, whenever possible, governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses,” they added.

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