UNHRC: PH rights violations stem from govt ‘heavy-handed approach’ vs security threats, drugs
MANILA, Philippines — The “serious” human rights violations in the Philippines stemmed from the “heavy-handed approach” of the government against national security threats and illegal drugs, a report by the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) said.
The 26-page report released on Thursday showed UNHRC documented killings of drug suspects and human rights defenders in the country over the first four months of 2020, including during the coronavirus pandemic.
“The response to COVID-19 has seen the same heavy-handed security approach that appears to have been mainstreamed through the ramped-up drug war and counter-insurgency imperatives,” the report read.
“While important measures were taken to mitigate the pandemic’s economic impact on vulnerable communities, threats of martial law, the use of force by security forces in enforcing quarantines, and the use of laws to stifle criticism have also marked the Government’s response,” it added.
The report, which was mandated by UNHRC resolution adopted in July 2019, noted that the majority of the human rights concerns the council has documented “are long-standing but have become more acute in recent years.”
“While there have been important human rights gains in recent years, particularly in economic and social rights, the underpinning focus on national security threats – real and inflated – has led to serious human rights violations, reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high-level officials,” the report stated.
“This focus has permeated the implementation of existing laws and policies and the adoption of new measures – often at the expense of human rights, due process rights, the rule of law, and accountability,” it added.
PH’s human rights advocacy
While the UNHRC acknowledged the Philippines’ “long-standing and robust tradition of human rights advocacy and activism,” the report pointed out that human rights defenders have been subject to verbal and physical attacks, threats and legal harassment for nearly 20 years.
It said the “vilification” of dissent and attacks against perceived critics are being “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”
“Human rights advocacy is routinely equated with insurgency and the focus diverted to discrediting the messengers rather than examining the substance of the message,” the report said.
“This has muddied the space for debate, disagreement and for challenging State institutions and policies,” it added.
The UNHRC said the alleged human rights violations documented in Philippines “have been exacerbated by harmful rhetoric emanating from the highest levels of the [g]overnment.”
The report described this as “pervasive and deeply damaging.”
“The rhetoric has ranged from degrading and sexually-charged comments against women human rights defenders, politicians and combatants – including rape ‘jokes’ – to statements making light of torture, calling for bombing of indigenous peoples, encouraging extreme violence against drug users and peddlers – even offering bounties, calling for beheadings of civil society actors, and warning that journalists were not immune from ‘assassination’,” the report read.
‘Checks and balances’
While the legal, constitutional and institutional framework in the Philippines contains human rights safeguards as well as checks and balances, the UNHRC report stressed the challenge lies in its “implementation – and circumvention.”
“The long-standing overemphasis on public order and national security at the expense of human rights has become more acute in recent years, and there are concerns that the vilification of dissent is being increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse,” it added.
According to the UNHRC, the report was based on 893 written submissions, “substantial input” from Philippine government, analysis of legislation, police reports, court documents, videos, photos and other open source material, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.
The report will be presented in the next UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva, the UNHRC said.
“The Philippines faces major challenges – structural poverty, inequality, armed conflict, frequent natural disasters, and now the COVID-19 crisis. It is vital the Government’s responses be grounded in human-rights approaches and guided by meaningful dialogue,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.
“Accountability and full transparency for alleged violations are essential for building public trust. Unfortunately, the report has documented deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations, and victims have been deprived of justice for the killings of their loved ones. Their testimonies are heartbreaking,” she added.
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