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MANILA, Philippines – Human Rights Watch (HRW) reminded the Philippine government that as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, it has an obligation to uphold human rights and be open to independent probes.
“Membership comes with responsibilities,” HRW Geneva director John Fisher told Rappler on Saturday, October 7. “The Philippines is expected to fulfill its membership obligations such as to uphold human rights standards and cooperate with UN mechanisms such as the Special Rapporteurs.”
The government, however, has been anything but cooperative with international bodies. President Rodrigo Duterte has constantly lashed out against the UN and other foreign institutions that have called for the end of killings in his war on illegal drugs.
If the attitude of “constant denial” continues, Fisher warned that the Philippines can be kicked out of the UN rights council. It is a measure that can be taken by the UN General Assembly in New York. (READ: Remove PH as member, group urges UN rights council)
“There are provisions for a state to be suspended or expelled from the UN's human rights body if they persistently violate human rights but it's a very rare and extreme,” he said. “But so many states underlined the fact that the Philippines is in violation of its membership obligations is a signal that it is one of the options available to the international community if the government persists in violating the right to life.”
‘No acknowledgement of the problem’
This is despite latest official data showing at least 3,850 people have been killed in police operations while at least 2,290 others were killed mostly by vigilantes. (READ: CHR: Death toll in drug war higher than what gov't suggests)
The Philippine government’s response to the UPR recommendations, according to Fisher, “dug themselves deeper into the hole.”
“What we saw from the Philippines was just a wholesale of rejection and no acknowledgement that there's a problem, let alone any commitment to addressing it,” he recalled.
“We saw just a state of complete denial, a refusal to accept recommendations as simple as ensuring appropriate investigations into the killings that are so widespread here,” Fisher added.
The Department of Foreign Affairs, led by Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, said that the adoption of the UN of the country’s human rights report card shows that the Philippines “has nothing to hide” with its record.
Yet it is nothing to be proud about, according to Fisher.
“The government tried to present the UPR as a success but there's nothing to be proud of in that because every UPR report is adopted (by the UN),” he explained.
Fisher, however, acknowledged that every country has human rights challenges. The UPR aims to get these governments to “acknowledge the challenges they face and commit to doing better.” (READ: No extrajudicial killings in PH? World 'not fooled,' says HRW)
But what they saw with how the Philippines responded to the recommendations was “unprecedented.” It was so “shocking” that according to Fisher, it pushed at least 39 member-states to release a joint statement condemning the “culture of impunity” in the country instead of just moving on to another agenda.
“We saw dozens of governments expressing joint concern on the responses of the Philippines,” Fisher said. “What these 39 states said is that I'm sorry Philippines but your response isn't good enough.”
“If the Philippine government won't take appropriate actions, the international community has no choice but to say that if you won't ensure that human rights will be respected, we will (do something),” he added. – Rappler.com
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.