MANILA, Philippines — The country does not have to be told of its human rights obligations as it is already faithfully fulfilling them, Malacañang said yesterday amid calls from 38 countries for the Duterte administration to address concerns over thousands of deaths and other abuses in the conduct of its war on drugs.
In a joint statement issued at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session in Geneva last week, the 38 countries said the Philippines – as a member of the council – is obliged to fulfill its duty to promote universal respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.
The 47-member UNHRC said it might take action if the government fails to fulfill its international human rights obligations. It did not elaborate.
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In response, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the administration has never shirked its responsibility to protect and uphold human rights while carrying out its campaign against illegal drugs.
“Even if there is no such call, we enforce the law. As I said, we have an inventory of those killed in the war on drugs so that we can easily determine if the processes are followed or not,” Roque said in Filipino.
“This means we don’t need to be told by foreigners,” he said.
In their statement, the 38 countries maintained that “states which are elected to join the council should lead by example and are expected to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights during their time as members.” Iceland’s representative delivered the message.
“If needed, the council may take further steps, including a more formal council initiative to try and ensure that member-states meet their human rights obligations,” it added.
The council reiterated its call for the government to investigate killings and protect human rights defenders.
“We urge the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable,” the statement read.
The call by the 38 countries came in the wake of the US announcement of its withdrawal from the council to protest its alleged bias against Israel.
President Duterte had vowed not to let himself or his officials be investigated by any foreign group for human rights abuses.
The 38 countries are Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom and the US.
The group said any action aimed at drug offenders must be carried out in full respect of the rule of law and in compliance with international human rights obligations.
Concern for CHR
It also raised concern over reports of harassment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression, including human rights defenders and journalists.
“We are also concerned about the harassment of members of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). We call upon the Philippines to provide and guarantee a safe and secure environment for all, including journalists and human rights defenders,” it added.
In their statement, the 38 countries said they were encouraged nonetheless “by reports that the government of the Philippines has indicated a willingness to cooperate with the UN to allow an objective assessment of the human rights situation in the country.”
“We urge the government of the Philippines to cooperate with the United Nations system –including the Human Rights Council and its special procedure mandate holders – without preconditions or limitations,” they said.
Last year, Iceland also led a group of 32 countries in asking the Philippines to allow UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial executions Agnes Callamard to visit the country without preconditions or limitations.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has repeatedly denied claims of human rights abuses in the country, and accused administration critics of destabilizing the government.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) has yet to comment on the joint statement of the 38 countries.
The joint statement was issued as the CHR urged the Philippine government to push through with its re-election bid to the UNHRC.
CHR chairman Chito Gascon said the Philippines should seek a second term despite the decision of the US to leave the human rights body.
“Personally, I would hope that they still would do so as human rights are important in and of themselves as universal values despite whatever short-term strategic interests a government might have with regards to its foreign policy,” he said.
The Philippines, which currently sits as vice president of the HRC, will end its three-year term at the UNHRC this year. It has the option to seek re-election.
Gascon stressed that all UN member-states, regardless of whether or not it is a member of the UNHRC, are obliged to behave in accordance with the highest standards of human rights.
He said it would be difficult to speculate on the impact of the US decision to pull out of the council, but said it signaled the retreat of the superpower from its leadership role in protecting and promoting human rights globally.
“(The move) is not unexpected under the Trump leadership. It may encourage other tyrants to be more bold,” he said.
Established in 2006, the HRC seeks to promote and protect human rights around the world. Its 47 membership is divided among regions, with each country allowed to serve two consecutive terms.
Not following US
Roque also made it clear the Philippines shares the sentiments of the US in the latter’s decision to leave the UNHRC but sees no need to follow the US.
Roque stressed that Duterte is keeping its policy of not meddling in the affairs or decisions of other sovereign nations.
The Philippines had earlier withdrawn its signature from the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Meanwhile, the Philippine National Police (PNP) vowed to cooperate in any investigation on alleged human rights abuses in the implementation of the government’s war on drugs.
“It’s always our desire to be transparent in our work processes, including our cooperation with any investigation by domestic or international bodies, but only through the Office of the Solicitor General which can best represent any government agency like the PNP,” said PNP spokesman Senior Supt. Benigno Durana Jr. in a text message.
The government said at least 4,279 suspected drug pushers and users have been killed in alleged legitimate armed encounters with law enforcers since President Duterte launched his crackdown on illegal drugs in July 2016.
Durana insisted it is never the policy of the PNP to kill drug suspects outright in anti-illegal drugs operations, contrary to allegations from critics that security forces are killing drug pushers and users in cold blood.
“Our policy firmly lies on the principle that we can be tougher on crimes, particularly illegal drugs, while upholding human rights and the rule of the law,” he said.
He added institutional reforms within the police organization are in place to ensure that human rights standards and principles are upheld. But he stressed casualties cannot be avoided.
“Anti-drug enforcers have the right to defend themselves while in the performance of their duty, including use of appropriate amount of force to effect arrest of usually armed and drug-crazed suspects,” the police official said. – With Emmanuel Tupas
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