A United Nations (UN) high commissioner urged the international body’s Human Rights Council (HRC) to mandate her office to continue monitoring and reporting on thousands of human rights violations in the Philippines.
In her remarks at the start of the UN HRC’s 44th general session in Geneva, Switzerland Tuesday, June 30, High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said violations are “very serious” that requires the Council’s consideration of “options for international accountability measures.”
“I urge the Council to remain active and vigilant on the situation in the Philippines, by mandating my Office to continue monitoring and reporting, as well as through support for technical cooperation to implement the report’s recommendations,” Bachelet said.
Bachelet was introducing her 26-page report mandated by the Council’s Resolution 41/2 of July 2019 on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
The high commissioner said Philippine laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights.
“They have resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detentions and the vilification of those who challenge these severe human rights violations,” Bachelet said.
She added that their investigations found more than 248 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists were killed between 2015 and 2019.
“This includes a large number of environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders. Human rights defenders are routinely smeared as terrorists, enemies of the State and even viruses akin to COVID-19,” she said.
‘Worrisome anti-terror bill’
Although not a part of her report, Bachelet also mentioned concerns related to the anti-terrorism measure slated to become law this month.
“The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism,” Bachelet said.
The high commissioner said the measure, once it becomes law and implement, could also have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities.
“So I would urge the President to refrain from signing the law and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism – but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy. My Office is ready to assist in such a review,” she said.
‘Failed anti-drug war’
Bachelet’s report said it found serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, resulting from key official policies driving the so-called “war on drugs.”
It said such policies incite violence from the highest levels of the Duterte government.
“The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing,” Bachelet said.
The high commissioner said they found near-total impunity, indicating unwillingness by the State to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings.
“Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice,” she said.
Moreover, by senior government officials’ own admission, the draconian campaign has been ineffective in reducing the supply of illicit drugs, Bachelet added.
The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice), an alliance that submitted a total of 16 reports in support of Resolution 42/1 expressed appreciation for Bachelet’s report.
“We subscribe to her findings and wholeheartedly support the recommendations, EcuVoice said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)
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