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Groups accuse Duterte of lying before UN on human rights

President Rodrigo Duterte’s speech before the 75th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) last Tuesday night, September 22, drew jeers from rights groups, calling his remarks on human rights “malicious” and “perverse.”

They said that the President’s repeated threats against UN investigators and local human rights workers show he lied when he professed open dialogue and constructive engagement before the international community.

While hailing the “properly moderate and constructive” tone the President adopted in his 20-minute pre-recorded video message, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said Duterte used his usual “poisonous language” on the issue of human rights that has led to countless extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in the last four years.

Duterte accused human rights advocates of “weaponizing” human rights in their alleged propaganda against his government.

“They attempt to discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country and a popularly-elected government which in its last two years still enjoys the same widespread approval and support,” Duterte said.

The President, who also talked about the coronavirus pandemic and the South China Sea struggle with China, assured the UN that human rights are protected in the country.

Duterte was obviously reacting to UN High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet’s report that no less than 8,663 were summarily killed under Duterte’s drug war.

“The Philippines will continue to protect the human rights of its people, especially from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality, and terrorism,” Duterte said. 

‘Perverse redefinition of human rights’

Human rights organizations said Duterte tried to redefine human rights and is simply trying to evade accountability.

“It is perverse for the President to redefine human rights as protection from illegal drugs, criminality, and terrorism, when human rights begin with the right to life, as set out in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,” Peter Murphy, ICHRP Global Council chairperson, said.

“But the President has repeatedly and recklessly called for lives to be ended, women to be raped, telling his soldiers and police that he will take the blame,” Murphy added.

ICHRP said Duterte’s UNGA speech is a calculated intervention in the deliberations of the ongoing UN Human Rights Council’s 45th Session at the UN’s Geneva, Switzerland headquarters where Bachelet’s report is being considered.

Local human rights alliance Karapatan said Duterte’s remark is a glaring effort “to vilify human rights defenders in the Philippines and to undermine their calls for accountability.”

“Duterte is posturing in making desperate pleas before the international community that is growing increasingly critical of his human rights record and tyrannical rule,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.

International Association of Democratic Lawyers’s Edre Olalia said that facts and record show it is Duterte’s government that has weaponized the law against human rights advocates, defenders, activists, dissenters, media, the opposition and many others.

“There is a gaping disconnect between the truth and the rhetoric that [the Duterte government] will ‘continue to protect the human rights of its people especially from the scourge of illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism,’” Olalia said.

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for its part said that while impunity in the Philippines did not start from the Duterte administration alone, his government has a definite role in ending it.

“[O]r, at the very least, not making it worse with present attitudes and behaviors. It is contrary to democracy to depict dissent and protests as efforts to destabilize,” the CHR said.

Lying to the international community

The CHR said that the best way in improving the human rights situation in the country is by encouraging constructive engagement, including open and unhindered access by independent human rights mechanisms and UN special.

The national human rights institution said the government’s law enforcement agencies must cooperate with investigations to ensure that perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable and punished.

But Duterte’s refusal to allow UN experts into the country shows he lied to the international community, Karapatan said.

“If his administration was truly for an open dialogue and constructive engagement with the UN and independent bodies, then he would’ve allowed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteurs to freely conduct an in-country investigation on the sham drug war and other human rights violations,” Palabay said.

Instead, Palabay added, the UN experts’ requests had been met with “threats of violence, wild accusations of foreign meddling, and demeaning insults.”

“The Philippine government even rejected most of the findings and recommendations of the recent report of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and is currently finding ways to evade independent investigation at the UN Human Rights Council,” Palabay added.

Olalia echoed Palabay’s denunciation, adding that the government declarations it is open to dialogue and constructive engagement with the UN on human rights issues is “a pretense.”

“It is either hypocritical or cynical given its actual attitude and record with respect to the UN Human Rights Council, the ICC and other international venues. Its engagement is nothing short of tokenism, spins, slants and diversions,” Olalia said.

ICHRP urged member States of the UN Human Rights Council to authorize Bachelet’s office to hold a more wide-ranging investigation on the Philippine situation.

“The Duterte government, if it stands by the President’s commitment to the UN principles and to multilateralism, should fully cooperate with such an initiative,” the group said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

Duterte now a known dictator with EU Parliament vote, rights group says

President Rodrigo Duterte is now known as a dictator by the international community after the European Parliament passed a resolution last September 17 condemning widespread human rights violations in the Philippines, an international rights group said.

The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said Duterte has become a globally notorious dictator whose four-year reign has greatly surpassed the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the number of civilians killed by his government.

“With the strong resolution from the EU Parliament, the Duterte government has now gained notoriety as a world-known human rights violator, if not, a dictator following the likes of Ferdinand Marcos,” ICHRP said in a statement.

More than 3,000 were killed, 34,000 were tortured, 70,000 were imprisoned and billions of public funds were stolen by the Marcos regime.

Duterte’s long list of violations

The European Parliament said at least 8,663 people had been killed by the Philippine National Police through a “widespread and systematic” anti-drug campaign by the Duterte government.

The resolution said that Duterte himself explicitly encouraged the police to commit extrajudicial execution and promised them immunity and promotions.

Majority of the victims were from poor and marginalized communities, the measure added, quoting a June 2020 report by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The resolution also listed the following human rights violations committed by the government:

-threats, harassment, intimidation and violence against human rights defenders, journalists and activists, equating their advocacy with insurgency;

-conviction of Rappler’s Maria Resa and Reynaldo Santos for cyberlibel and the denial of the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise;

-imprisonment of Senator Leila de Lima;

-killing of at least 43 land rights defenders;

-criminalization and attacks against indigenous human rights defenders;

-killing of human rights defender Zara Alvarez and peace advocate Randall Echanis;

-assassination of at least 16 journalists and a pattern of intimidation of independent news sources;

-Duterte’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court;

-Congress’ approval of the death penalty measure and adoption of a new anti-terrorism law;

-Duterte’s repeated sexist and misogynistic speech and behavior;

-endangerment of workers’ rights advocates;

-Duterte’s repeated reference to political opponents’ sexual orientation as a smear against them and implying that homosexuality is a disease;

-victimization of up to 100,000 children in prostitution rings and child labor; and

-government’s failure to curb corruption.

The European Parliament resolution said it proactively supports the adoption of a resolution at the ongoing 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into human rights violations committed under the Duterte government.

The measure also recommended to the European Union (EU) to temporarily withdraw the Philippines’ Generalized Scheme of Preferences Plus status that provides tariff perks for Filipino goods until the Duterte government “immediately carry out impartial, transparent, independent and meaningful investigations into all extrajudicial killings.”

The resolution was adopted with 626 votes in favor, seven against, and 52 abstentions.

Allies of Duterte however dared Europe to go ahead with its sanctions and vowed reprisals in the future.

“No more discussions. They should do what they want to do during this time. If they want to implement it, go ahead,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said.

“I’m sorry. I’m being very undiplomatic in my answer, but what else can I say? At the time of a pandemic, they’re threatening us. Susmaryosep, what else do we lose?” Roque added.

Philippine House of Representatives Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano for his part said the European Parliament’s resolution is an interference in the “country’s domestic issues.”

“The Philippine House of Representatives takes exception to the outright interference of the European Parliament in the purely domestic matters of the Philippines by dictating on the government ‘to renew the broadcast license’ of ABS-CBN and to ‘drop’ the Cyberlibel charges against Maria Ressa,” Cayetano said in a statement.

“To our friends in the European Parliament, we have a saying here in the Philippines that the world is round. The day will come – mark my words – that the Philippines will be in a position to impose economic sanctions on your countries,” he said.

A bill seeking to block United States (US) assistance to the Philippine police and military, including equipment and training, “until human rights conditions are met,” has also been submitted by 19 US House of Representatives members last week.

Duterte’s de facto martial law

 ICHRP said it welcomes the resolution by the legislative branch of the European Union it said is a damning indictment of the human rights crisis in the Philippines.

“The demands for justice for those slain in the drug war, the killings of activists, attacks on press freedom have all gained international condemnation. It is an attestation that the world no longer tolerates this repressive government. Duterte and his dictator government will be made accountable,” ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy said.

 “President Duterte with his ‘de facto’ Martial Law in place and the continuing repression in the country has found himself increasingly isolated in the international community. Cut from the same cloth as that of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, Duterte is now synonymous with killings and human rights atrocity,” Murphy added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)