Lack of PH human rights resolution 'reflects poorly' on UN states, HRW says

Lack of PH human rights resolution 'reflects poorly' on UN states, HRW says
A relative of a victim of an extra-judicial killing attends a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights in Manila on Oct. 29, 2021.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — The United Nations Human Rights Council dealt victims of rights violations in the Philippines "a serious blow" by failing to pass a resolution that would ensure continued scrutiny of the country’s human rights situation, an international rights watchdog said Wednesday.

In a statement sent to reporters, the New York-based Human Rights Watch pointed out that the council is set to end its 51st Session in Geneva on October 7, without action on the Philippines. This is despite expressions of concern from the UN human rights office, civil society organizations, and families of victims of abuses.

A September report by the high commissioner’s office highlighted prevailing rights violations and recommended continued monitoring and reporting to the council. Council member states and donor countries that supported the 2020 resolution and the Philippine-UN Joint Program however did not press for a 2022 resolution this time around.

“The UN Human Rights Council’s failure to act on the Philippines is devastating for both the victims of human rights abuses and civil society groups that seek to uphold basic rights,” said Lucy McKernan, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.

“The end to council scrutiny of the Philippines reflects especially poorly on the European and other concerned governments, led by Iceland, that had banded together in 2020 to support a resolution and the UN Joint Program that sought real improvements on the ground.”

To recall, the 2020 Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines required the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the Philippines' rights situation through 2022.

The UN Joint Program was designed to institutionalize human rights reforms in the Philippines in the face of catastrophic rights abuses during the “war on drugs” started by then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016.

HRW said in its statement that instead of creating a commission of inquiry to investigate the thousands of extrajudicial killings, the Human Rights Council in 2020 settled on providing the Philippines “technical cooperation” and “capacity building” that, while valuable, did not advance accountability for grave crimes.

"The three-year program has not gotten beyond its preliminary phase, facing unnecessary obstacles from the Philippine government, including attempts to undermine civil society participation," Human Rights Watch said.

"Without a commitment to the program from the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., and the political backing offered by a Human Rights Council resolution, the UN Joint Program is unlikely to make much progress."

Continued drug war, attacks vs human rights defenders

Since Marcos took office on June 30, there has been no letup in “drug war” killings or other human rights violations. The Third World Studies Center of the University of the Philippines has reported 90 drug-related deaths during the new administration, including 41 since Marcos’ press secretary said on August 11 that the “drug war” would continue. 

Harassment and attacks against activists, human rights defenders, and journalists have continued. The National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, which is under the Office of the President, continued to engage in “red-tagging,” baselessly accusing people of supporting the communist insurgency, putting them at grave risk.

“Families of victims had high hopes that the Human Rights Council would continue its scrutiny of rights abuses in the Philippines, but the council let them down,” said McKernan.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines remains dire, but as the council drops the Philippines from its agenda, justice and accountability remain as elusive as ever.” — Franco Luna

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