Duterte slams critics for âweaponizingâ human rights
Speaking for the first time via pre-recorded video message before the UN body on its 75th session, President Rodrigo Duterte also assured the international community that the Philippines is committed to the protection of human rights.
Presidential Photo/Cado Ninal/File
Duterte slams critics for ‘weaponizing’ human rights
Edith Regalado (The Philippine Star) - September 24, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — President Duterte slammed critics for “weaponizing” human rights issues as he defended himself before the United Nations General Assembly in New York yesterday after receiving a backlash for his bloody war on illegal drugs, campaign against criminality and terrorism in the country.

Speaking for the first time via pre-recorded video message before the UN body on its 75th session, Duterte also assured the international community that the Philippines is committed to the protection of human rights.

“The Philippines will continue to protect the human rights of its people, especially from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism,” he said.

In his speech aired during the High-Level General Debate of the UN General Assembly, Duterte talked about attempts to undermine his administration despite strong public support.

“A number of interest groups have weaponized human rights, some well-meaning, others ill-intentioned. They attempt to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly elected government which, in its last two years, still enjoys the same widespread approval and support,” he said.

Duterte spoke before the UN, which has not been spared his cussing and insults in recent years supposedly for meddling in domestic affairs after UN special rapporteurs called out the Philippines over alleged human rights abuses related to the illegal drug campaign.

He stopped short of saying who were the groups behind efforts to bring down his administration.

The President’s stance at the UN came after the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights found that the government’s “heavy-handed’ focus on combating illegal drugs and security threats has resulted in grave human rights violations.

The UN report also noted that human rights advocacy and activism were routinely equated with insurgency.

UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet urged the Duterte administration to revoke its policies and rhetoric that lead to killings and alleged human rights abuses.

Duterte had publicly denounced the Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP) led by self-exiled founder Jose Maria Sison and some members of the political opposition for derailing his presidency.

“These detractors pass themselves off as human rights advocates while preying on the most vulnerable humans, even using children as soldiers or human shields in encounters. Even schools are not spared from their malevolence and anti-government propaganda,” Duterte added.

At the start of his term, the 75-year-old Duterte initiated peace talks with the CPP and its armed wing, New People’s Army, but the peace negotiations did not work out due to the series of relentless attacks against government facilities and ambuscades attributed to the rebel group despite the ceasefire.

Duterte also accused critics of misleading the international community when they are guilty themselves of having blood on their hands.

“They hide their misdeeds under the blanket of human rights but the blood oozes through,” Duterte said.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque Jr. said it is within the right of any sovereign nation to deny any special rapporteur who would like to dig into the alleged human rights violations since the team seems to have been influenced by allies of the political opposition.

“There’s no need to allow into the country so-called experts with very fixed biases against the Philippines already. The fact that we are not allowing them in is a sovereign prerogative recognized by the UN system,” he told CNN Philippines.

“There’s nothing that the UN can do if we do not allow rapporteurs into our country,” Roque said.

A number of UN rapporteurs have tried to look into the reported extrajudicial killings in the last four years of the present administration, but were mostly met with outright ridicule and insults coming from President Duterte himself.

Despite criticisms that the war on drugs has received from the opposition and human rights groups, Roque said the President is resolved to deal with the threat to the right to life brought about by the scourge of illegal drugs.

“Now there is absolutely no legal principle under international law that prohibits states from acting on the scourge of drugs, illegal drugs and terrorism. It is a valid sovereign act; it is in fact an act which forms part of the international program of the international community, even in the UN system,” he added.

“We have UN Anti-Drugs Office based in Vienna, Austria which shows that it is in fact an obligation of the state to protect its people from the scourge of illegal drugs and the President therefore will continue with even more passion in the last two years this war on drugs, criticisms notwithstanding,” the Palace official added.

Roque maintained also that if there were reports of violations of human rights, these could be isolated and are now subject of investigation by law enforcement agencies.

Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) director general Wilkins Villanueva yesterday dared critics of the war on illegal drugs to join them in anti-drug operations and help convince drug suspects to surrender instead of complaining.

Villanueva was reacting to a report from international rights group Human Rights Watch (HRW) that drug-related killings worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Citing government data, HRW said 155 drug suspects were killed in law enforcement operations from April to July 2020, which is 50 percent higher than the 103 fatalities recorded from December 2019 to March 2020 when the community quarantine was not yet in place.

Villanueva, however, pointed out 82 or 52.90 percent of the casualties were from Mindanao where it is normal for people in some areas to carry firearms.

Open dialogue

Duterte called for open dialogue, asking the UN for better understanding of the situation.

“To move forward, open dialogue and constructive engagement with the United Nations is the key,” he said.

Duterte maintained the need for other nations to respect the Philippines’ sovereignty in handling domestic issues.

“But these must be done in full respect of the principles of objectivity, noninterference, non-selectivity and genuine dialogue. These are the fundamental bases for productive international cooperation on human rights,” he said.

At the same event, Duterte also highlighted the passage of the country’s anti-terror law – aimed at strengthening government efforts to fight terrorism and extreme terrorism despite the barrage of petitions filed against the measure before the Supreme Court.

Apart from the UN, the President also spoke about the scourge of illegal drugs while he defended his human rights records before some leaders who attended the Valdai Forum in Russia last year.

Duterte’s administration has been besieged with continued complaints about extrajudicial killings victimizing those suspected to be engaged in the illegal drug trade .— Emmanuel Tupas

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