Friday, 5 June 2020
The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) welcome the report of the UN Human Rights Office on the widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity in the Philippines. The report was mandated by an Iceland-led resolution during the 41st session of the UN Human Rights Council, seeking a full inquiry into the human rights situation, particularly in relation to the government’s war on drugs which resulted in tens of thousands of extrajudicial killings.
The UN inquiry poses a crucial step towards attaining justice for the grieving families and exacting accountability from the Duterte government; it exposed a pattern of consistent and systematic attack on the lives and dignity of the mostly impoverished populations; and found incontrovertible evidence of the severity of abuses perpetrated on innocent civilians.
In a statement1 the UN Human Rights Office said:
“Given the failure of domestic mechanisms to ensure accountability thus far, the report stressed the need for independent, impartial, credible investigations into all allegations of serious violations of human rights and international humanitarian law. The High Commissioner stands ready to assist credible efforts towards accountability at the national and international level.”
Human rights groups led by iDEFEND and PAHRA fully support the establishment of an independent international investigation into the Philippines. Both have made submissions to the UN relating to the acute lack of legal and judicial remedies for the thousands of victims of extrajudicial killings, torture, sexual assault, extortion, and abuse of vulnerable groups, including children. PAHRA and iDEFEND submissions revealed that widespread impunity prevented victims’ families, lawyers and witnesses from seeking justice or initiating investigations, due to fear of reprisals.
Government’s harsh, punitive peace and order measures employed in the war on drugs have edged their way into the current public health crisis as the country reels from the impact of the Covid19 pandemic. Hard lockdowns, physical assault, cruel and degrading treatment, illegal detention, sexual exploitation, and summary killings have marked government’s response to the coronavirus, along with a string of legislation and policies which have been enacted to suppress dissenting voices and neutralize opposition to these measures.
Accountability for human rights violations, abuse of power, as well as graft and corruption, remains elusive as one by one, democratic institutions are systematically shut down, checks and balances in governance are eroded, and civic spaces are limited.
Challenges lie on the government’s persistent refusal to cooperate with the international community; its staunch justification of the war on drugs; its invocation of national sovereignty; and its protection of the criminals among its highest ranks.
However it is our hope that the report by Office of the High Commissioner will be accepted by the Duterte Administration which was written with substantial input from the Philippine Government , analysis of legislation, police reports, and court documents. The proposed recommendations could help the country take initial steps towards the resolution of the issues raised, namely:2
“a. In context of its campaign against illegal drugs:
Repeal PNP Command Memorandum Circular No. 2016-16, cease ‘Project Tokhang’ and urgently put an end to extrajudicial killings, arbitrary detention and other violence targeting suspected drug offenders and people using drugs; Abolish the compilation and publication of ‘drug watch lists’ at all administrative levels;
Undertake a comprehensive review of legislation and policies relating to narcotics, including revisiting the mandatory penalties for drug offences; Consider decriminalization of personal possession and use of certain drugs; Implement alternative measures to conviction and punishment and other human rights-based responses;
Ensure adequate assistance to families of victims of drug-related killings, including financial aid, legal support and psycho-social services.
b. National security laws and policies:
Rescind Memorandum Order 32; Ensure emergency measures are necessary, proportionate and time-bound, limited to those strictly required by the exigencies of the situation;
Urgently disband and disarm all private and State-backed paramilitary groups;
Review Executive Order 70 and its implementation to ensure compliance with the rule of law and international human rights norms and standards, and that political and socio-economic grievances are tackled through meaningful, participatory consultation;
Empower an independent body to conduct prompt, impartial, thorough, transparent investigations into all killings, and into alleged violations of international humanitarian law, with a view to prosecution and remedies for victims and their families;
Improve systems to compile and publish consistent, disaggregated data on all allegations of extrajudicial killings;
Improve cooperation between law enforcement bodies and the Commission on Human Rights; strengthen its investigative and forensic capacity, including through adoption of the Commission on Human Rights Charter; Adopt legislation establishing a National Preventive Mechanism on Torture;
d. Civic space:
Take confidence-building measures to foster trust with civil society organizations and facilitate their engagement with State institutions mandated to respond to human rights concerns, without reprisal; Halt - and condemn – incitement to hatred and violence and other harmful, threatening and misogynistic rhetoric against human rights defenders and other Government critics – offline and online;
Ensure that the rights to freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly are respected and protected; Drop politically-motivated charges against human rights defenders, political opponents, journalists and media organizations, legal and judicial officials, trade unionists, church workers, and others; Take legal measures to ensure their protection, particularly following threats, including of gender-based violence; Ensure there are no reprisals against those persons and entities which have engaged with OHCHR for the present report.
e. Indigenous peoples:
Fully and comprehensively implement the Indigenous People’s Rights Act and address, together with affected communities, the major challenges impeding its proper functioning;
Ensure full respect for the principle of free, prior and informed consent and meaningful participation at all stages of development projects that affect indigenous communities;
Ensure universal access of indigenous children to quality education in line with their cultural identity, language and values.
f. Cooperation with OHCHR and UN human rights mechanisms:
Invite Special Procedures mandate-holders to monitor and report on specific human rights concerns in the Philippines and provide relevant technical assistance;
Invite OHCHR to strengthen its provision of technical assistance, inter alia, to advise on reviewing counter-terrorism legislation, adopting human rights-based approaches to drug control, strengthening domestic investigative and accountability measures, improving data gathering on alleged police violations, and to assist in bridging the gap between civil society and State authorities.”