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Domestic remedies vs rights abuse in Philippines not working, int'l group says

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Domestic remedies vs rights abuse in Philippines not working, int'l group says
A police officer is seen in this undated photo looking at a crime scene where a man is killed in authorities' anti-drug operations
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines — An global initiative looking into the human rights situation in the Philippines said Tuesday that local mechanisms for accountability are insufficient and even illusory, as they pressed for stronger international action on abuses in the country.

Members of the international group InvestigatePH spoke in a briefing Tuesday night as they launched their initial findings on human rights violations in the Philippines.

In the report, members said abuses perpetuated by state forces "has become more institutionalized, orchestrated and entrenched" under the Duterte administration.

This, they said, comes amid the ongoing "war on drugs", the passage of the Anti-Terrorism Law as well as the anti-communist task force's labeling of activists and organizers as so-called communist terrorists.

"The findings are a damning indictment of the human rights crisis happening in the Philippines,” said Jeanne Mirer, president of the International Association of Democratic Lawyers. “Not only that. We found out that domestic remedies are ineffective at providing redress for the victims."

InvestigatePH looked into 49 cases of human rights violations between 2020 and 2021 that they said dispute the administration's claim before the United Nations Human Rights Council that domestic remedies are at work to bring justice to victims.

The probe was done through interviews with victims and witnesses either by phone or online, with the group's legal team also reviewing court records and relevant documents.

The group said the results were based on 10 indicators. This includes that state forces were planting evidence and refusing to provide drug war documents to the Commission on Human Rights, that probes are not impartial, that law enforcers in cases are not held to account, as well as court protections being slow and inaccessible.

The findings were presented to the UN's High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday, March 15, the group said.

InvestigatePH also said the UNHRC and its member states should launch inquiries and fact-finding missions to help improve the human rights situation in the Philippines and to "exert accountability and deliver measurable as well as reliable justice to victims."

The Philippine government has rejected calls to have international fact-finding missions look into the rights situation in the Philippines, saying these are not needed since alleged abuses by state forces are investigated and those involved are held to account.

Concerns over the rights situation in the Philippines have also been dismissed as meddling in domestic issues.

“There is a sense of urgency here," said Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, an InvestigatePH commissioner. "The killings and degradation of human dignity are escalating as seen in the report. The UNHRC and the world has to rise to the challenge of putting an end to this."

InvestigatePH, in its executive summary, said the evidence in their report shows that serious human rights violations have worsened. Implementation of legal avenues for accountability they added, is not only lacking, "but government actions have undermined these legal protections."

Suspension of US military aid?

Two InvestigatePH commissioners, speaking at an open forum during their briefing,  agreed that getting the US to withhold military aid to the Philippines could help improve the rights situation in the country.

"I think that is a valid strategy," said Suzanne Adely, president of the National Lawyers' Guild in the US. "If we are seriously acting on laws like the Leahy Law, we can use the cutting of military aid as pressure to stop these human rights violations."

According to the US State Department, the Leahy Law prohibits the use of US government funds to assist units of foreign security forces "where there is credible information implicating that unit in the commission of gross violations of human rights."

Mirer said too that InvestigatePH's findings could help the work of civil societies in the US in urging for an end to the human rights abuse in the Philippines.

InvestigatePH was formed in December 2020 and has local partners such as the National Union of People's Lawyers, Karapatan as well as Rise Up for Life and Human Rights.

RODRIGO DUTERTE

UNITED NATIONS HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL

WAR ON DRUGS

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