Amid calls for the United Nations Human Rights Council to pass a resolution ensuring continued scrutiny of the human rights situation in the Philippines, the Department of Justice told the UNHRC in session to understand the domestic challenges the country faces and trust that its government “knows best.”
“What we ask of you, the Human Rights Council and partners, is to listen to us, to understand the context of our challenges – beside us on the ground, not above us from afar. To trust that we know best what is good for our people and to work with us to realize the vision of human rights and justice for all,” Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said in his address before the 51st UNHRC session on Wednesday.
Remulla asked the international community to rally behind the Philippines’ reforms that seek a “transformational change” for its justice system.
While Remulla and the Philippine delegation sit down and meet UNHRC officials and highlight the government’s reforms and efforts to strengthen human rights mechanisms, human rights watchdogs –including the Human Rights Watch – continue to call on the UNHRC to take action on the Philippines’ human rights situation.
In a statement on Wednesday, HRW’s Geneva office director Lucy McKernan accused the UNHRC of “dealing a devastating blow” to the victims of human rights violations in the Philippines due to its failure to pass a resolution that ensures continued scrutiny of the domestic human rights situation in the country.
“The end to council scrutiny of the Philippines reflects especially poorly on the European and other concerned governments, led by Iceland, that had banded together in 2020 to support a resolution and the UN Joint Program that sought real improvements on the ground,” McKernan said.
The 2020 Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines required the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the Philippines rights situation through 2022.
“A September report by the high commissioner’s office highlighted prevailing rights violations and recommended continued monitoring and reporting to the council. However, the council member states and donor countries that supported the 2020 resolution and the ensuing Philippine-UN Joint Program did not press for a 2022 resolution,” the HRW said in a separate statement.
“The UN Joint Program was designed to institutionalize human rights reforms in the Philippines in the face of catastrophic rights abuses during the war on drugs started by then-President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016. Instead of creating a commission of inquiry to investigate the thousands of extrajudicial killings, the Human Rights Council in 2020 settled on providing the Philippines ‘technical cooperation’ and ‘capacity building’ that, while valuable, did not advance accountability for grave crimes,” the HRW added.
Meanwhile, other representatives from the Philippines including those from HRW Philippines and NoBox Philippines delivered oral statements in the session where they reported the continuous summary drug killings, harassment and arrest of critics and journalists, as well as red-baiting perpetrated by government officials themselves.
Inez Feria of NoBox, a think tank providing alternative and humane policies in addressing the drug menace, criticized the lack of honesty in tackling the human rights problem in the country during this year’s session.
“How can we move forward and fix things if we are not honest about what has been happening and continues to be happening? And we quibble over numbers instead of acknowledging the wrongs that have been committed against Filipinos and to where we should be facilitating accountability?” Feria said.
Meanwhile, HRW’s senior Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said they have recorded at least 90 drug-related killings since July 1.
“Instead of putting the Philippine government on notice, the Council will be handing President Marcos an opportunity to make self-serving claims about his yet unseen commitment to human rights,” he said.
Remulla’s delegation will be in Geneva until Oct. 14 to attend related meetings and dialogues.