'Milestone' UN-Phl rights program just spin if killings continue, HRW says

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
'Milestone' UN-Phl rights program just spin if killings continue, HRW says
United Nations Philippines Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, Secretary of Justice Menardo I. Guevarra, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro L. Locsin Jr. sign the UN Joint Programme on Human Rights at the Department of Foreign Affairs on July 22, 2021.
United Nations Philippines via Gaylord Hintay, Facebook release

MANILA, Philippines — A new joint program between the United Nations and the Philippines to improve human rights conditions in the country will just be "spin" in the face of continued killings during President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, Human Rights Watch said.

HRW Asia Division Senior Researcher Carlos Conde noted that while the Philippine government hailed its three-year joint program for capacity building, it is “a spin that flies in the face of the bloody rights catastrophe that is the government’s war on drugs.”

“The agreement with the UN should not by itself be considered progress, which should be measured by accountability and effective reforms,” Conde also said.

More than a year and a half since the UN Human Rights Council announced its resolution to provide technical assistance to the country, the UN and officials of the Philippine government inked the program for capacity-building and technical cooperation on July 22.

During the signing, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the program "manifests the sincere efforts of the Philippine Government to infuse its law enforcement and investigative operations with a human rights dimension in a non-political setting."

UN Philippines Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez meanwhile noted the agreement as a "critical milestone," as "the first-ever UN joint program on human rights in the Philippines, where we put together the capacities and resources of the UN in support of a wide range of national institutions." 

After 'milestone', Duterte taunts ICC

Conde pointed out that just two days after the signing, Duterte, in his last State of the Nation Address, not only touted his bloody “drug war” that has claimed thousands of lives but even taunted the International Criminal Court with a rhetorical order for more killings.

In a speech that went on for nearly three hours, Duterte repeated his comments about killing alleged drug traffickers. 

"Pero ‘yan magprangka ako uli (But let me be frank), I would never deny and the ICC can record it: Those who destroy my country, I will kill you. And those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you," the president said.

"Talagang yayariin kita (I will really kill you) because I love my country. You can do it the legal way but it would take you months and years."

The Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC in June requested to open an investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines, but other rights organizations have been pushing the UN Human Rights Council to launch an independent investigation into these killings.

The UNHRC however only adopted a resolution on technical assistance and capacity building to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The program outlined six areas for capacity-building and technical cooperation, covering strengthening domestic investigation and accountability mechanisms, data gathering on alleged police violations and human rights-based approaches to drug control.

Conde noted that even if the program becomes successful, “the UN’s support will not address the core problem: the program has no prospect of convincing Duterte to reverse course and hold abusive officials to account.”

“After all, the killings continue and accountability is practically zero,” he added.

Philippines rejects ICC jurisdiction

The Duterte government has been adamant that the ICC has no jurisdiction over them. They withdrew the Philippines’ membership, although the international tribunal’s Article 27 provide that “withdrawing from the Rome Statue does not discharge a state party from the obligations it has incurred as a member.

“By doubling down on his murderous policy, he is revealing his government’s lack of commitment to the UN program his government just announced,” Conde continued.a

“The true test of the administration’s sincerity will be its willingness to end state-sanctioned killings and uphold its international human rights obligations. Manila can start by supporting genuine accountability and by cooperating with the ICC investigation,” he also said.

The Department of Justice is also leading an inter-agency review of “drug war” operations that resulted in deaths and has flagged, in its initial report, that police fail to follow protocols.

Amnesty International Secretary General Agnes Callamard, a former UN special rapporteur, said in January that the review must also look into how cops in cases where suspects died were emboldened to kill.

The benchmark for exacting accountability for killings and human rights violations in the country must also go beyond dismissing cops found to have committed them, she added.

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