EDITORIAL - Dignity, freedom, justice for all

The Philippine Star

The meeting would have been unthinkable in the previous administration: a human rights rapporteur of the United Nations, visiting the Philippines and meeting freely with her intended contacts over 10 days, and sitting down for a chat with the secretary of justice.

Mama Fatima Singhateh is the UN special rapporteur on child exploitation. Her visit is not related to abuses committed in the Philippines’ campaign against illegal drugs or in counterinsurgency, but she is the first UN special rapporteur to visit the country since 2015.

Two days before the world marked Human Rights Day, Singhateh reported her findings during her visit: while the Philippines has made progress in fighting online sexual abuse and exploitation of children, she said more attention could be given to OSAEC in the context of travel and tourism as well as transactional sex. Singhateh also noted weak implementation of recent laws against OSAEC.

Her visit has been seen as a plus for the Marcos administration, which has also reassured human rights groups that the campaign against illegal drugs is being recalibrated to focus on effective enforcement to cut the supply rather than on the bloody extermination of drug suspects. To curb demand, the government is also focusing on rehabilitation and community-based efforts.

The Duterte administration, which the International Criminal Court wants to formally investigate for possible crimes against humanity in the conduct of the war on drugs, barred UN human rights representatives from entering the country. Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla, who met with Singhateh during her visit, has urged police officers to come out and testify about possible abuses committed in the war on drugs.

Human rights, however, cover many other aspects of life, such as the right to education, health and decent pay, and protection against harassment, discrimination and various forms of abuses. The Marcos administration is being urged to do more to curb the spread of disinformation, and to promote freedom of expression and the press.

Today the UN is launching a yearlong countdown to the 75th anniversary of the UN General Assembly’s adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This year’s anniversary theme is “dignity, freedom and justice for all.”

In a message on Human Rights Day, the UN noted that the dignity and equality in rights stipulated in the UDHR have been “under a sustained assault in recent years.”

“As the world faces challenges new and ongoing – pandemics, conflicts, exploding inequalities, morally bankrupt global financial system, racism, climate change – the values, and rights enshrined in the UDHR provide guideposts for our collective actions that do not leave anyone behind,” the UN said.

In the Philippines, while drug killings have abated, activists, journalists and legal professionals continue to be murdered with impunity. Social injustice is pervasive. The new administration is offering hope for a better rights environment, but serious challenges remain.


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