UN confirms receiving Arroyo rights case

MANILA, Philippines – The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) confirmed it has received a case questioning the detention of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

In response to queries, OHCHR media officer Xabier Celaya told Rappler that the case is now with the UN’s Geneva-based Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention.

“We can confirm that the Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention has received a petition linked to Ms. Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s situation, and that the case is now confidential,” Celaya said in an e-mail on Monday, March 9.

Rappler asked Celaya to confirm reports that renowned international human rights lawyer Amal Clooney filed a case against the Philippine government before the UN working group over the alleged arbitrary detention and political persecution of Arroyo.

The Pampanga Representative’s Filipino lawyers disclosed the filing of the case in various media interviews but Celaya’s statement is the first confirmation outside of the Arroyo camp.

Palace not yet notified

Celaya said that there is no “specific date scheduled” for UN experts to reach an opinion on Arroyo’s case. She explained that the case follows a confidentiality rule, which is “part of a normal process adopted by the UN Special Procedures mechanisms in order to protect all parties.”

“None of the Working Group’s five members can comment publicly about the case until the Working Group issues an opinion. Once they issue an opinion, only the Group’s experts can talk about their decisions; no one at OHCHR can talk on their behalf,” Celaya added.

The UN working group investigates cases of deprivation of liberty imposed arbitrarily or inconsistently with international law like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

Arroyo has been in hospital detention since December 2011 over a plunder case in relation to the alleged misuse of P366 million ($8.28 million) in Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office (PCSO) intelligence funds during her presidency. She is detained at the Veterans Memorial Medical Center in Quezon City.

Plunder is typically a non-bailable offense in the Philippines but the Congresswoman’s lawyer repeatedly asked the anti-graft court Sandiganbayan to allow her to post bail, saying her “continued hospital confinement would endanger her life or result in permanent impairment of health.”

Palace Communications Secretary Communications Secretary Herminio Coloma Jr said Monday that the Philippine government has yet to be notified of the case but “will respond accordingly.”

President Benigno Aquino III is a known critic of Arroyo, and the Arroyos have cried political persecution ever since charges were filed against her. The UN petition marks the first time Arroyo brought her case before an international body.

ARBITRARY DETENTION? The UN's Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention will decide if the Philippine government violated Arroyo's rights in detention. File 2012 photo

ARBITRARY DETENTION? The UN's Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention will decide if the Philippine government violated Arroyo's rights in detention.

File 2012 photo

60 days to respond

The Working Group on Involuntary and Arbitrary Detention is the only non-treaty based mechanism whose mandate expressly provides for consideration of individual complaints. It was created in 1991 by the former UN Commission on Human Rights, now known as the UN Human Rights Council.

“This means that its actions are based on the right of petition of individuals anywhere in the world,” according to a description on the OHCHR website.

The UN agency explained that the working group acts on information brought to its attention by sending “urgent appeals and communications to concerned Governments to clarify and/or bring to their attention these cases.”

“The communication is forwarded to the Government concerned through diplomatic channels with an invitation to communicate to the Working Group within 60 days its comments and observations on the allegations made, both as regards the facts and the applicable legislation and concerning the progress and outcome of any investigations that may have been ordered.”

The working group shall then issue an opinion on whether or not the deprivation of liberty is arbitrary, and make recommendations to the government.

The Manila Bulletin quoted Arroyo’s lawyers as saying that her case falls under the “urgent action procedure.” The UN states that:

The working group is composed of 5 members, human rights experts from Norway, Mexico, South Korea, Benin, and Ukraine.

‘Unfair detention’

Clooney has yet to publicly comment on the case but her profile on the Columbia Law School’s website lists the petition, and calls Arroyo’s detention “unfair:”

Over the weekend, Columbia announced that the London-based Lebanese-British lawyer will be a visiting professor at the university starting Spring 2015.

Clooney specializes in international law, human rights, extradition and criminal law, and was the senior advisor to former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan when he was the world body’s envoy to Syria.

She has defended many high-profile figures including former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko, Wikileaks head Julian Assange, and recently, Al Jazeera journalist Mohamed Fahmy who was detained in Egypt. She also defended Cambodia in the Preah Vihear temple territorial row against Thailand.

Clooney also happens to be the wife of Hollywood actor George Clooney. – Rappler.com