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Despite UN promise, PH gov't excludes CHR from 'partial' drug war probe

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Monday, January 11, said it was not included in the Philippine government's initial inter-agency panel review into the thousands of killings under President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign.

This statement comes as Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra announced that the initial report of the panel has been submitted to the Office of the President, after the first deadline was missed in November 2020.

"We regret that the [CHR] was not involved in the review, contrary to the commitments and assurances made by the government during the 44th session of the [United Nations] Human Rights Council," CHR Commissioner Karen Gomez Dumpit said.

"This is an unfulfilled promise to Filipinos and the entire community of nations," she added.

Guevarra had announced the creation of the review panel in June 2020, assuring the UN that the CHR "will be involved as an independent monitoring body," and that its "continued, unhampered function underpins our strong position against calls for an independent investigative mechanism."

But in October 2020, the CHR lamented that the Department of Justice (DOJ) had yet to clarify its role in the inter-agency panel despite numerous letters, which were left unanswered. (READ: CHR still out of the loop in much hyped DOJ drug war panel)

Nothing has changed since then, even if the commission "respectfully, diligently, consistently, and repeatedly asked the DOJ" about these concerns.

Dumpit told Rappler on Monday that the DOJ has not explained why they have been excluded from the review.

"We wrote, and letters were left unanswered," she said.

In a statement sent to reporters, Guevarra said they intend to engage with the CHR and that "much collaborative work remains to be done."

"As I said, the initial report is only a partial one," he said. "Our efforts have been severely hampered by current restrictions on mobility and physical access to records."

Transparency needed

Guevarra said the initial report was finished last December 29, and Duterte must have time "to pore over it" first.

But the CHR urged the DOJ to publicly release the report, to aid the quest for justice of families of more than 5,655 people killed in police drug operations. (READ: 4 years on, climate of fear and impunity blocks justice for Duterte’s drug war victims)

"We strongly urge the government to publicize the findings as transparency is key to ensure the credibility of the said report," Dumpit said. "This will allow victims and their families to access crucial information in the process of obtaining justice."

The exclusion of the CHR from the initial drug war review panel is a reflection of the Duterte administration's general treatment of the national human rights institution.

Since 2016, the commission has failed to extract cooperation from law enforcement agencies such as the Philippine National Police (PNP) for its investigation into the killings. The PNP is part of the review panel.

The creation of the panel was widely seen by human rights groups as an effort to evade accountability, in the aftermath of a scathing report by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet that said local systems have so far failed to exact accountability for the killings.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said last December that there is "reasonable basis" to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the drug war.

She added that her office will decide whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the country in the first half of 2021. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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