UN submits PH rights record on Duterte’s 4th anniversary as president

United Nations (UN) human rights high commissioner Michelle Bachelet is about to formally submit her report on the state of human rights in the Philippines today, June 30, the fourth anniversary of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency.

As the 44th general session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) starts in Geneva, Switzerland, Bachelet’s submission will be followed by discussions on the document by its member-states.

Philippine representatives are expected to deliver the government’s response to the 26-page report, first released to the public last June 4.

The session starts at 4:30 pm, Philippine time.

(Watch it here: http://webtv.un.org/live-now/watch/44th-regular-session-of-human-rights-council-/5708657554001)

The report said the Duterte government’s heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.

Read Kodao’s article on the report here:

Dozens of civil society organizations submitted complaints to the UN earlier this year as part of UN’s data-gathering following the passage of Iceland-sponsored Resolution 41/2 to conduct investigations on the human rights situation in the Philippines.

At least sixteen organizations under the Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines (EcuVoice) also urged the UNHRC to pass a resolution to investigate further the killings and threats of activists, churchpeople, teachers, indigenous peoples, lawyers, the political opposition, journalists, environment defenders and other sectors.

Ecuvoice sent representatives to the UNHRC’s 43rd general session in Geneva last February and March, urging the body to pass a resolution for a more thorough investigation of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The Philippine Mission to the UN in Geneva has consistently denied the killings and rights violations are official policy and acts of the Duterte government.

Palace photo

‘Sanctions vs rights violators’

Meanwhile, UN human rights experts (see list below) renewed calls for an on-the-ground independent and impartial probe despite Duterte’s threat to expel investigators upon arrival in the Philippines.

In a statement last Friday, June 26, the UN experts said Bachelet’s report confirmed their findings and warnings issued over the last four years: widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition.

“The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” UN special rapporteurs said. 

The experts highlighted “the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the Government”:

  • Based on the most conservative assessment, since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed in the war on drugs and 223,780 “drug personalities” arrested, with estimates of triple that number.
  • At least 73 children were killed during that period in the context of a campaign against illegal drugs. Concerns have also been raised about grave violations against children committed by State and non-State actors in the context of military operations, including the recruitment and use of children in combat or support.
  • The lasting economic harm and increased poverty among the children and other family members of those killed is likely to lead to further human rights violations.
  • At least 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, plus at least 40 legal professionals had been killed since 2015, many of whom were working on politically sensitive cases or advocating for land and environmental rights of farmers and indigenous peoples and housing rights of the urban poor.
  • The Securities and Exchanges Commission in 2018 revoked the license of a prominent news website Rappler and its CEO, Maria Ressa, has been arrested multiple times on various charges and found guilty of cyber libel.
  • On 5 May 2020, President Duterte’s government ordered the shut-down of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, after years of explicit threats from the President in part because of its critical reporting on the “war on drugs”.
  • There has been no accountability whatsoever for the multiple human rights and humanitarian law violations, limited follow-up on transitional justice and reconciliation in the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region of Muslim Mindanao; independent investigations by local institutions have been thwarted; many in the opposition silenced, including Senator Leila Norma Eulalia de Lima imprisoned since 24 February 2017.
  • President Duterte ordered the country’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court after the tribunal launched a preliminary examination of crimes against humanity committed in the context of the “war on drugs” in 2018.

The experts said the coronavirus pandemic has further accelerated the downward spiral of the human rights situation in the Philippines.

“Police and the military have used violence and lethal force to enforce a quarantine imposed without due consideration for the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” the experts said.

The group quoted Duterte saying, “Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave.”

The experts also warned against the Philippine Government’s attempt to fast track a new Anti-Terrorism Bill they sau will further dilute human rights safeguards, by justifying the arrests of human rights defenders and government’s critics, authorising lengthy detention based on warrantless arrests, wiretapping and other surveillance for extended periods of time.

“Thousands in the Philippines have been killed as the direct result of the government policies. Domestic mechanisms responsible for ensuring accountability and protecting the rule of law have failed to do so,” the UN experts said.

The group urged the OHCHR report should not be the end of international commitment but a milestone marking the beginning of real accountability, redress for the victims and a definite end to the very serious violations committed.

The experts said the human rights situation in the Philippines has now reached a level of gravity requiring a robust intervention by the UN.

“The Human Rights Council must do everything in its power to prevent the continuation of widespread and systematic human rights abuses against the Philippines people,” the group said.

The experts urged the Human Rights Council to:

  1. Establish an on-the-ground international investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines
  2. Strengthen the OHCHR mandate to continue its monitoring and reporting on the human rights violations in the Philippines
  3. Call on the ICC to expedite and prioritize the completion of its preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines   

The special rapporteurs also called on the UNHRC member-states “to initiate governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.” # (Raymund B. Villanueva)

* The experts: Ms. Agnès Callamard, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; Mr. Diego García-Sayán, Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers; Mr. David Kaye, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of expression; Ms. Dubravka Šimonović, Special Rapporteur on violence against women, its causes and consequencesMr. Léo Heller, Special Rapporteur on the human rights to water and sanitationMr. Olivier De Schutter, Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights; Mr. Nils Melzer, Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment; Mr. Ahmed Shaheed, Special Rapporteur on freedom of religion or belief; Mr. Tomoya Obokata, Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, including its causes and consequences; Mr. Baskut Tuncak, Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes; Mr. Livingstone Sewanyana, Independent Expert on the promotion of a democratic and equitable international order; Ms. Mama Fatima Singhateh, Special Rapporteur on sale and sexual exploitation of children; Mr. Dainius Pūras, Special Rapporteur on the right to physical and mental health; Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule,Special Rapporteur on the rights of peaceful assembly and associationMs. Mary Lawlor, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defendersMr. Michael FakhriSpecial Rapporteur on the right to foodMr. Balakrishnan Rajagopal, Special Rapporteur on adequate housing as a component of the right to an adequate standard of living, and on the right to non-discrimination in this contextWorking Group on Arbitrary Detention: Ms. Leigh Toomey (Chair-Rapporteur), Ms. Elina Steinerte (Vice-Chair), Mr. José Guevara Bermúdez, Mr. Seong-Phil Hong, Mr. Sètondji Adjovi; Ms. Claudia Mahler, Independent Expert on the enjoyment of all human rights by older persons; Mr. José Francisco Calí Tzay, Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoplesMr. Fabian Salvioli, Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to truth, justice, reparation and guarantees of non-recurrenceMr. Saad Alfarargi, Special Rapporteur on the right to developmentWorking Group on the issue of human rights and transnational corporations and other business enterprisesSurya Deva, Elżbieta Karska, Githu Muigai (Chair), Dante Pesce, Anita Ramasastry (Vice-chair).

[NEXT IN THIS SERIES: UN official slams rights violations in the Philippines, urges options for international accountability]

[DISCLOSURE: The reporter was a member of the EcuVoice delegation to the 43rd General Session of the UNHRC as a freedom of expression/press freedom violation victim.)