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Engage the UNCHR

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GOVERNANCE MATTERS

By FORMER VICE PRESIDENT JEJOMAR C. BINAY

Jejomar C. Binay Former Vice President

Jejomar C. Binay
Former Vice President

The Philippines is a founding member of the United Nations, and for decades we have carried this distinction with a certain degree of pride. We pride ourselves at being present at the creation of an international body bonded by amity and respect among nations. We have actively participated in all UN efforts that promote universal and humanitarian values, peace, and a renunciation of violence.

As a member-state from the developing world, the Philippines has benefitted from the assistance extended by specialized agencies of the UN, particularly in agriculture, nutrition, development, and conflict resolution. We have, in turn, displayed our adherence to the UN and its values in many ways. We have dispatched medical and peacekeeping missions in conflict areas. We have aligned policies and programs with the mandates of UN initiatives such as the Millennium Development Goals. We are a signatory to a host of international conventions and resolutions, foremost of which is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

However, our relations with the UN of late have been tenuous. One can hazard that in the wake of last week’s United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution calling for an international probe of the drug war, it may have reached a breaking point.

Last Monday, major newspapers played up a tweet of the Foreign Secretary hinting that the Philippines may yet decide to pull out from the UNHRC. The pushback is not surprising, since the Foreign Secretary had earlier issued a thinly veiled warning against countries who backed the resolution: “We renew our solidarity with our true friends who have stood by us in this farce.  But we will not tolerate any form of disrespect or acts of bad faith. There will be consequences; far-reaching ones.”

The sharp reaction from administration officials elicited an equally sharp retort from a UNCHR official, who was quoted as saying the Philippines cannot wilfully ignore UN rulings, once they are issued. To ignore them would be to risk a host of sanctions.

The tit-for-tat came after a resolution sponsored by

Iceland was adopted last week by 18 of the 47 members of the UNHRC. According to reports, 14 countries voted against the resolution, while 15 abstained.

But despite the outsized media attention, it appears very few have actually read the full text of the resolution, whether they belong to the administration or its critics.

Here is the full text of the resolution:

“The Human Rights Council,

“Guided by the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the International Covenants on Human Rights, and other relevant international human rights instruments,

“Reaffirming the primary responsibility of States to respect, protect, and fulfil all human rights and fundamental freedoms and to fulfil their obligations under human rights treaties and agreements to which they are parties,

“Recalling repeated expressions of concern about the situation of human rights in the Philippines by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and special procedure mandate holders.

“Expressing concern at the allegations of human rights violations in the Philippines, particularly those involving killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention, the intimidation and persecution of or violence against members of civil society, human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, journalists, lawyers and members of the political opposition, and restrictions on the freedoms of opinion and expression, peaceful assembly and association,

“Bearing in mind that, since the campaign against illegal drugs was announced in the Philippines in mid-2016, there have been allegations of the killing of thousands of people allegedly involved in the drug trade and drug use,

“Reaffirming the determination of Member States to tackle the world drug problem and to actively promote a society free of drug abuse in order to help to ensure that all people can live in health, dignity and peace, with security and prosperity, and reaffirming also the determination of Member States to address public health, safety and social problems resulting from drug abuse,

“Emphasizing that the right to life must be respected and protected by all law enforcement agencies in their efforts to address drug-related crimes, and that allegations of drug-trafficking offences should be judged in a court of law that adheres to internationally recognized fair trial and due process norms and standards,

“Deeply concerned about allegations of threats, intimidation, and personal attacks directed against special procedure mandate holders, including the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples and the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions,

“Welcoming the statements made by the Government of the Philippines expressing its willingness to welcome independents experts from the United Nations to conduct an objective assessment of the situation of human rights in the country,

“Noting with appreciation the adoption in June 2019 by the House of Representatives of the Philippines of the Human Rights Defenders Protection Act,

“1. Urges the Government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, to carry out impartial investigations and to hold perpetrators accountable, in accordance with international norms and standards, including on due process and the rule of law;

“2. Calls upon the Government of the Philippines to cooperate with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, including by facilitating country visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation;

“3. Requests the High Commissioner to prepare a comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, and to present it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fourth session, to be followed by an enhanced interactive dialogue.”

While the premises may be seen as an indictment of the drug war, the resolution is far from a finding of guilt on the part of the administration. It merely directs the council to render a report, which in turn, will be the subject of “an enhanced interactive dialogue.”

Perhaps, it is about time the administration confronts the issue head-on. One can only go so far with the acerbic and dismissive rhetoric. Now is probably the time for actual engagement.

If the administration believes strongly — as it has stated on many occasions — that it has not committed human rights violations in the conduct of the drug war, and that the figures being bandied about by human rights groups and advocates are false and misleading, then it should make its case before the international community. The Philippine National Police (PNP) has maintained that its figures are accurate. Then it should be willing to share its data with the probers. The former police chief who is now a senator was quoted as saying he will have his head chopped off if it can be proven that extra-judicial killings are state-sponsored. Now that is not an easy bet to make, unless one is certain about his odds.

jcbinay11@gmail.com

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