Marcos’ ‘ambitious’ UN plans hinged on fixing PH human rights issues — UN expert

Cristina Chi - Philstar.com
Marcos� �ambitious� UN plans hinged on fixing PH human rights issues � UN expert
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. returns from state visit in Vietnam.
Presidential Communications Office

MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government’s plan to position itself as a global leader on human rights will depend on how meaningfully it addresses rights abuses back home, United Nations Special Rapporteur Irene Khan said. 

The UN expert said during a press conference on Friday that the Marcos government’s plans to head the UN Commission on the Status of Women and to become a member of the powerful UN Security Council may pressure it to first address its "grave and deep-seated human rights problems" domestically.

Khan noted that the Philippines has shown “greater willingness” to coordinate with the international body — a shift in the country’s engagement with UN human rights procedures compared to the previous administration under former President Rodrigo Duterte. 

The UN special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression capped her 10-day visit — which was upon the invitation of the Philippine government — during Friday’s press conference, where she shared her findings and recommendations on the human rights situation and state of press freedom in the country.

“The administration of President Marcos Jr. has set a new tone on many issues that were concerns in the recent past,” Khan said, citing the reopening of peace talks, the release of former Senator Leila de Lima and the acquittal of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa as “positive signals.”

However, Khan cautioned that these steps alone are insufficient at “(turning) the page decisively on the past.”  

Leadership aspirations under scrutiny

The UN expert pointed out that the Philippines' pursuit of leadership roles in international bodies like the UN Commission on the Status of Women and the UN Security Council raises expectations on its domestic human rights record. 

"It can hardly be a security council member and not manage its own security problems in line with UN standards," Khan said. 

The UN special rapporteur shared on Friday that she has recommended the abolition of the government’s anti-insurgency task force and the issuance of an executive order to prevent the wanton red- and terror-tagging of innocent civilians.

Khan noted that the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict has become “outdated” and is now acting beyond its mandate by red-tagging a diverse range of groups it deems to be terrorist.

The UN expert also raised concerns on some of the most widely-opposed laws in the country, including the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020.

She added that effectively addressing domestic human rights issues would enhance the Philippines' “moral authority” on the global stage.

The UN Commission on the Status of Women is the main global body dedicated to promoting gender equality and the empowerment of women. The UN body's main functions include setting global standards for gender equality, identifying best practies for gender equality, among others. 

Meanwhile, the UN Security Council is the UN's primary body for maintaining international peace and security. It has 15 members, including  five permanent members (China, France, Russia, United Kingdom and UNited States) and 10 non-permanent members elected for two-year terms. 

The Security Council is particularly powerful given that it has the power to authorize the use of force to maintain or restore international peace and security. It, essentially, plays a role in addressing major international crises and conflicts. 

In December 2023, the UN Security Council passed a resolution calling for an indefinite ceasefire to the fighting in Israel and Palestine to allow the entry of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Duterte’s long shadow

Khan highlighted the enduring culture of impunity fostered by the previous Duterte administration, when attacks on dissenters, including past visiting UN rapporteurs, were commonplace. 

In 2017, Duterte threatened to slap UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions Agnes Callamard, who was conducting an investigation related to his so-called "war on drugs." 

Callamard, at the time, called on the Duterte administration to make the death of 17 year-old Kian De Los Santos its last. 

Khan urged the Marcos government to send a clear message condemning red-tagging, the practice of labelling critics as communists or terrorists. 

“You need to send a message out that you do not approve and tolerate red-tagging if that is your position,” Khan said, stressing the need for a “message from the top” to signal the government’s commitment to human rights and accountability.

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