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De Lima, rights defenders warn UN on Duterte’s ‘snake oil salesman of a government’

By adopting a more diplomatic tone in its resolution on the state of human rights in the Philippines, did the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) expect the Rodrigo Duterte government to suddenly behave? Senator Leila de Lima asked.

Reacting to the Council’s position on the penultimate day of its 45th General Session last Wednesday, the imprisoned Senator asked the UNHRC if after 28,000 murders and hundreds of cases of attacks on critics and human rights defenders, does it expect the Duterte government to “grow a conscience and cultivate an appetite for the promotion and defense of human rights?”

In a statement read at an online press conference by her spokesperson Atty Fhillip Sawali last Thursday, October 8, the Senator also expressed doubt that the technical cooperation offered by the UNHRC to Duterte’s government will finally enable it to fulfill its international obligations on human rights.

De Lima said the resolution is “not responsive to the human rights calamity under the Duterte government,” adding the new UNHRC resolution is out of sync and incongruous with its earlier resolution calling for in-country investigations by independent experts on reports of human rights violations the President himself encouraged.

“It does not meaningfully address the need to stop the policies and practices that result in EJKs (extrajudicial killings) and other gross human rights violations. It does not put in place an independent investigation of the killings and other abuses,” de Lima said.

She added that technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic investigative and accountability and similar measures do not result in any concrete mechanism that can lead to the prosecution and punishment of the masterminds and perpetrators of crimes and human rights violations.

The Senator said she fears that the government may just use UNHRC’s supposed technical assistance and capacity-building programs as convenient covers to hide its actual policy of contempt towards human rights and human rights defenders.

“In other words: the new UNHRC resolution fails to take concrete steps towards ending the killings. It likewise fails to advance the cause of justice for the numerous victims and their bereaved families,” she said.

De Lima urged the UNHRC “not to be easily swayed by the snake oil salesman of a government that has clearly declared an open war against human rights and the rule of law.”

 “How do you disable a killing machine? You confront it tenaciously, with all the talents and tools that you have, aiming at disarming and dismantling it, and holding responsible all its masterminds and operators,” de Lima said.

Diplomacy at work?

Philippine government officials were quick to welcome the UNHRC resolution and claimed the international body trusts that Philippine criminal and judicial institutions to address human rights violations.

In an online briefing Thursday, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the resolution “shows that the UN Human Rights Council trusts the institutions tasked to address human rights violators.”

“We will fully cooperate with the UN Human Rights system because that is what we want. We are not saying we are perfect. Do not criticize us and help us instead,” Roque said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra for his part said he will get the proferred technical cooperation with the UNHRC going and create a panel to review drug operations resulting in deaths.

The latest UNHRC resolution was co-sponsored by the Philippine government.

‘Simple posturing’

Asked on the possible reasons for the tone of the resolution and the calmer response by the Philippine government, National Union of Peoples Lawyers president Edre Olalia said it appears that the Duterte government is shifting its stance from belligerence to mollification.

“After overwhelming, persistent and consistent condemnation by the international community on the state of human rights in the Philippines, the Duterte government painted itself to a corner by its combative stance in the past,” Olalia said.

“The calmer tone may be a tactical approach to temper criticism of its record and it may also be a strategic approach to preempt accountability for its human rights violations,” Olalia added.

The lawyer also explained that voting at the UN is political and influenced by set voting patterns, lobbying, quid-pro-quo among States, and regional considerations.

“But what is relevant is whether the victims receive justice or the perpetrators are only emboldened further. In the end, it is the policy and reality on the ground that matters,” he said.

Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay added that the Duterte government should not be too quick on claiming it won points with a resolution written in fine language.

“What is very clear is that there still needs to be strong domestic accountability and impartial investigations,” Palabay said, noting that the resolution is still based on the report filed by the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) detailing thousands of rights violations by the Duterte government.

“The challenge here is how the Philippine government honors and views OHCHR recommendations, as well as those by other independent local and international human rights organizations,” Palabay stressed.

Palabay recalled Duterte’s recent online address of the UN General Assembly where he called for “open dialogue” and “constructive engagement” but complained that human rights had been “weaponized” against him and his government by local and international critics.

“Duterte is clearly just posturing. In any case, the ball is in the government’s court, so to speak,” she said.

The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas also dismissed the government’s assurance of dialogue and cooperation with human rights mechanisms.

“Any technical cooperation and capacity building on human rights for the part of the Duterte government  would just be tokenistic and superficial. Duterte’s practice of human rights promotion is practically naught. Soon enough, he would [again] be verbally lashing at the UNHRC and human rights defenders,” the KMP said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)