Civil society groups to tackle PH human rights in UN review

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A Philippine delegation taking part in the upcoming Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the United Nations Human Rights Council has urged the Marcos administration to be truthful, saying that “nothing short of an honest admission of the human rights situation in the Philippines would make [it] believable in the eyes of the world.” “If the Philippine government wishes respect, it must sincerely promise to stop human rights violations and prosecute past perpetrators,” said the Philippine UPR Watch amid its expectation that the administration would “present again” an ideal picture of the country’s human rights situation.

READ: UN human rights chief lauds PH steps, but . . .

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The group, which had already left for Geneva to attend the UPR set next week, said it would “confirm and validate firsthand to the international community that the Philippine government has reneged on its commitment to respect and uphold the rights of the Filipino people, and it perpetuated and institutionalized impunity for violations.”

The Philippine UPR Watch delegation this year is composed of individual advocates and human rights defenders from Karapatan, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, Coalition for People’s Right to Health, Council for Health and Development, Ibon Foundation, Bayan, Rise Up for Life and for Rights, Ramento Project of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente, Sandugo-Movement of Moro and Indigenous Peoples for Self-Determination, and Cordillera People’s Alliance.

Representing civil society, the group has been actively engaged in the UPR process since the first cycle in April 2008.

The UPR, which evaluates the human rights records of the UN’s 193 members, bases its assessment on information provided by the state under review which can take the form of a “national report”; information contained in the reports of independent human rights experts and groups known as the Special Procedures, human rights treaty bodies, and other UN entities; and information from other stakeholders, including national human rights institutions and civil society groups.

Committee recommendations

The Philippine UPR Watch delegation said it would compel the government to observe the recent recommendations of the UN Human Rights Committee.

In its advanced, unedited 13-page report dated Nov. 3, the 18-member committee of human rights experts recommended that the Philippines “strengthen cooperation with international human rights bodies, including the ongoing investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) amid continuing reports of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the drug war.”

The expert panel was “particularly concerned” by reports of incitement to violence by both past and present government officials, including former President Rodrigo Duterte, as well as the “continued failure” of local authorities to promptly and independently investigate EJKs and bring perpetrators to justice.

The committee urged the government to “put an end to EJKs and [take] steps to replace an exclusively punitive approach to drug control with an approach fully in line with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”

Its recommendations were part of a long list of human rights issues and recommendations made just before the country submits itself to the UPR process.

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Red-tagging

Last month, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla met with the UN in Switzerland to reaffirm President Marcos’ commitment to the drug war. He also pushed back against criticisms that “Red-tagging”—accusing someone of being a communist or a sympathizer—was a threat, saying it was part of democracy.

But the UN committee appeared unconvinced and even called on the government to end Red-tagging and promptly investigate all human rights violations against rights defenders, activists and journalists.

For Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes, the language used by the committee showed that Remulla’s claims “did not sit well with [it].”

‘Not convinced’

“The committee clearly recognized that Red-tagging was a threat to human rights defenders and must therefore be stopped. It is not protected speech, contrary to the claims of the justice secretary,” he said.

The committee further recommended that all victims of human rights violations should have access to compensation schemes similar to the Human Rights Victims Reparation and Recognition Act which sought to indemnify martial law victims.

It also asked the government to review and amend the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 and refrain from using counterterrorism and criminal legislation to curtail freedom of expression and assembly.