UN experts slam Duterte over media killings

Paterno Esmaquel II
UN experts slam Duterte over media killings
President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's recent comments on media killings 'are irresponsible in the extreme, and unbecoming of any leader,' says Christof Heyns

MANILA, Philippines – Calling his words “irresponsible in the extreme,” two independent experts at the United Nations (UN) slammed Philippine President-elect Rodrigo Duterte on Monday, June 6, for his recent statements on media killings.

In a statement, the UN experts took exception to at least two of Duterte’s recent remarks:

The UN’s special rapporteur on summary executions, Christof Heyns, said that a message like this “amounts to incitement to violence and killing, in a nation already ranked as the second-deadliest country for journalists.”

“These comments are irresponsible in the extreme, and unbecoming of any leader, let alone someone who is to assume the position of the leader of a country that calls itself democratic,” Heyns said.

David Kaye, the UN’s special rapporteur on freedom of opinion and expression, joined Heyns in hitting Duterte’s statements.

Kaye said that “justifying the killing of journalists on the basis of how they conduct their professional activities can be understood as a permissive signal to potential killers that the murder of journalists is acceptable in certain circumstances and would not be punished.”

“This position is even more disturbing when one considers that the Philippines is still struggling to ensure accountability to notorious cases of violence against journalists, such as the Maguindanao massacre,” Kaye added.

He was referring to the massacre in the conflict-wracked southern province of Maguindanao in November 2009, in which the son of a political warlord and his bodyguards gunned down 58 people, including 32 journalists – making it one of the world’s deadliest attacks on media workers.

Duterte cursing UN 

At the same time, Kaye also questioned why Duterte said the Constitution “can no longer help” journalists if they “disrespect a person.” The president-elect said, “That can’t be just freedom of speech.”

Kaye said, “Such provocative messages indicate to any person who is displeased by the work of a journalist or an activist, for example, that they can attack or kill them without fear of sanction.”

Heyns and Kaye belong to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights System. Experts in this body “work on a voluntary basis.” They are also “not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work,” the two experts’ statement said.  

They “are independent from any government or organization, and serve in their individual capacity,” the statement added.

Duterte has previously showed contempt for the UN as he cursed it in a media briefing on Thursday, June 2.

Putang ina kang UN. E hindi mo nga masolve-solve ang patayan diyan sa Middle East,” the president-elect said.

(You’re a son of a bitch, UN. You can’t even solve the killings there in the Middle East.)

“They’re killing people. You cannot even lift a finger in Africa. They’re butchering the black people there,” he added. 

While saying he does not know the “full context” of Duterte’s statements, British Ambassador Asif Ahmad, for his part, condemned media killings in the Philippines.

“Whether you agree or disagree with a journalist, there are no circumstances under which anybody can sanction assassination,” Ahmad said in an interview with Rappler’s Maria Ressa on Friday, June 3. 

Records show that 174 journalists have been murdered in the Philippines since the end of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos 3 decades ago. – with reports from Agence France-Presse/Rappler.com

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Paterno Esmaquel II

Paterno R. Esmaquel II, news editor of Rappler, specializes in covering religion and foreign affairs. He obtained his MA Journalism degree from Ateneo and later finished MSc Asian Studies (Religions in Plural Societies) at RSIS, Singapore. For story ideas or feedback, email him at pat.esmaquel@rappler.com.