Rights expert urges PH to allow probe of EJKs as int’l clamor grows
The Philippine government should heed the international community’s growing clamor for an independent probe into the Duterte administration’s war on drugs – or else, face serious actions from the United Nations Human Rights Council and its members, a human rights expert warned.
John Fisher, Geneva director of the Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the Philippines jeopardizes its membership in the UN Human Rights Council, as well as its relationship with the body’s member-states, if the government would continue to refuse an independent international investigation into its violent campaign against illegal drugs, which has killed thousands of suspected drug criminals more than a year into its implementation.
“Many of those states have bilateral relations with the Philippines and the government is jeopardizing its good relations with governments around the world,” Fisher said in an exclusive interview with INQUIRER.net on Friday.
“It’s jeopardizing its bilateral relations. It’s jeopardizing its continued membership in the UN Human Rights Council if it fails to heed those calls and to [address] the warning signals,” he added.
Fisher raised the alarm more than a week after the Philippines concluded its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in which 103 states forwarded 257 recommendations to address different human rights issues in the country.
The Philippine government only accepted 103 recommendations while rejecting the rest that were necessary to address “serious human rights violations” resulting from the deadly drug war.
This includes the call to allow UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard to conduct an independent probe into the campaign without preconditions that would compromise her impartiality.
And as if the UPR results were not enough, 39 states – including long-time Philippine allies the United States, Canada, Australia, and United Kingdom – issued a joint statement on Sept. 29 expressing concern “about the thousands of killings and the climate of impunity associated with the war on drugs.”
This was the second joint statement issued against the Philippines at the Human Rights Council: The first was in June, in which 32 states urged the Duterte administration to end extrajudicial killings and threats against human rights defenders, to cooperate with UN mechanisms, and accept and implement the most pressing UPR recommendations it received.
These strong statements of concern and condemnation, Fisher pointed out, was a “very, very rare” occurrence in the record of the Human Rights Council.
“It’s very, very rare that in addition to all the recommendations made during the UPR process that we also hear such a strong message of condemnation and concern as we’ve seen in the joint statement recently,” Fisher said.
Membership at risk
Being elected into the Human Right Council carries certain level of prestige and responsibilities as it means that the member state had significantly contributed to the promotion and protection of human rights.
Fisher said the Philippines, which was elected into the body in 2014, could face the risk of losing its membership if it would not cooperate with UN mechanisms.
“Unless the Philippines heeds those calls, it will find itself facing increasing demands by the international community, including the Human Rights Council, to accept an international investigation or face the real possibility of being excluded in the Human Rights Council,” he added.
The Human Rights Council is composed of 47 states elected every three years by the 192 member states of the UN General Assembly and is the UN’s premier human rights body. It is tasked with protecting and promoting human rights in the world and ensuring that member states comply with international human rights standards.
A council member’s rights and privileges could be suspended if it would persistent commit gross and systematic violations of human rights under its term of membership, subject to a two-thirds majority vote by the UN General Assembly, according to the UN Human Rights Council website.
No state-sponsored killings
The Philippine government, however, has consistently maintained that there were no state-sponsored killings in the country.
In its Sept. 19 response to the Human Rights Council’s recommendations, the government said that the deaths linked to the anti-illegal drug campaign were a result of “legitimate law enforcement operations or deaths that require further investigation following the established rules of engagement by the country’s law enforcers.”
Malacañang has also defended the claim of the Philippine National Police of “zero” extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration despite countless reports of drug war deaths under suspicious circumstances, including that of teenagers Kian delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.
On the other hand, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in his speech before the UN General Assembly on Sept. 23, emphasized that the war on drugs was a “necessary instrument” to protect the human rights of all Filipinos.
“The Philippines’ comprehensive campaign against illegal drugs is necessary instrument to preserve and protect the human rights of all Filipinos, and never an instrument to violate any individual’s or group’s human rights,” Cayetano said.
But Fisher said: “If the Philippine government maintains that it is respecting the international law in the conduct of its so called war on drugs, then it should have nothing to hide, and should be open to and welcome, in fact, an international scrutiny.”
Fisher added that it was not too late for the government to “cooperate with the international community, to put an end to the killings, to put an end to the inflammatory rhetoric of the president and to ensure that it complies with international standards.” /atm
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