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U.N. report on attacks vs PH rights groups is ‘shoddy work’ – Locsin

Sofia Tomacruz

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U.N. report on attacks vs PH rights groups is ‘shoddy work’ – Locsin
'The UNHRC report reads like it was written by the accusers...Ignore it,' says Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr

MANILA, Philippines – The Philippines on Monday, September 23, tossed aside a report by United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, which cited the Philippines among countries where human rights defenders working with the international body have been subjected to attacks.

“The UNHRC (UN Human Rights Council) report reads like it was written by the accusers. It reads like a transcript of their whining. Shoddy work. Ignore it,” Foreign Secretary Teodoro “Teddyboy” Locsin Jr tweeted on Monday.

Locsin was referring to a recent report prepared by Guterres in September 2019, which listed updates to several instances of supposed harassment of human rights groups, indigenous peoples’ representatives, and the red-tagging of rights defenders from 2017-2018.

The report also drew attention to what it called the “arbitrary” detention of opposition Senator Leila de Lima. (READ: Protecting human rights groups vs threats)

Specifically, the UN listed the following as “acts of intimidation” against human rights defenders who have cooperated with the UN and its representatives:

  • Allegations of reprisals against Commission on Human Rights Chairperson (CHR) Chito Gascon, who has been subjected to threats and was reported to be under surveillance by state agents
  • The imprisonment of opposition Senator Leila de Lima whose detention has been deemed “arbitrary” and “politically motivated” by several UN special procedures mandate holders (The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention called for the senator’s immediate release and to probe her detainment.)
  • Efforts of the justice department to declare 600 persons as “de facto terrorists” upon the declaration of the Communist Party of the Philippines and New People’s Army (NPA) as “terrorist” organizations (The list initially included UN special rapporteur Victoria Tauli-Corpuz and members of human rights group Karapatan, among others. From over 600 people the DOJ has trimmed down its list to 8. The case remains pending.)

Philippines responds: The Philippine government hit these claims as it denied the allegations of intimidation and retaliation against the CHR, De Lima, Karapatan, and other human rights defenders.

“Labelling Government’s statements as acts of reprisals and intimidation is a curtailment of the role of State actors in any democratic process,” the Philippine government responded in June 2019 as cited by Guterres in his report. (READ: Duterte’s war on dissent)

The Philippine government also highlighted the increase of the CHR’s budget by some 60% in the past year and defended its right to criticize statements made by those against the government’s policies. (READ: Powering through a crisis: Defending human rights under Duterte)

The Philippines likewise hit recommendations calling for De Lima’s release, saying it was “improper” for external groups to intervene in the “independence and impartiality of the [Philippines’] judicial process.” It also fended off criticism for initially tagging over 600 people as terrorists, arguing that some indigenous peoples and rights defenders have been “misused” and “exploited” by terrorist groups.

Worrying trend: According to Guterres, threats and harassment of human rights defenders across the world have revealed a trend of smear campaigns, bullying, and hate speech online against those who work with the UN.

The UN secretary-general said he was also concerned about a “body of evidence” that showed victims of such attacks have begun to censor themselves and avoid working with the UN out of fear for their safety.

Also worrying, Guterres said, was several states’ use of national security and “counter-terrorism strategies” to block access to the UN. The world leader urged states to refrain from resorting to this and to instead protect the rights of human rights defenders.

“These incidents are absolutely unacceptable. Our partners are indispensable, and we must all do more to protect and promote their fundamental right to engage with the United Nations,” Guterres said. –

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Sofia Tomacruz

Sofia Tomacruz covers defense and foreign affairs. Follow her on Twitter via @sofiatomacruz.