NEWS | Justice Not Yet Served: UN resolution in HR crisis insufficient

Photo from Al Jazeera

Seventy-five years ago, the United Nations (UN) was established on October 24 to promote their objectives as manifested by their sustainable development goals. Just a few weeks before the celebration, the Human Rights Council brought to light a resolution vis-à-vis the persistent human rights situation in the Philippines, an issue that is expected by the international community to be intervened by the UN.

UN’s domestic remedies

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) seeks to aid victims of human rights violation through technical assistance and capacity-building for domestic efforts on human rights. The said assistance shall put emphasis on police investigation, counter-terrorism, as well as an attempt to mitigate drug use among civilians.

Although the UN stated that a review panel will come into existence to probe deaths under the anti-drug operations, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) president Edre Olalia claimed that the established resolution may not be enough as it does not call out the perpetrators and enablers of state violence.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines warrants more than just ‘technical assistance’ from the UN. A full international investigation to effectively address the pervasive impunity in the country is urgently needed,” said Philippines Researcher at Amnesty International (AI), Rachel Chhoa-Howard.

Furthermore, the solution human rights advocates hope for as Cristina Palabay, Karapatan secretary general, stated is an opportunity to prosecute the perpetrators of the violations and to repeal laws and policies that facilitate the violations.

The resolution was established after the UN gathered data which claimed that Duterte’s war on drugs perpetrated cases of extrajudicial killings.

Anti-narcotics crackdown

Given the rampant human rights violation perpetuated by the Duterte regime, rights groups are forced to question: is the resolution enough to uphold justice to the victims? Does it enable thorough examination on state forces that uphold violence in their state?

It began when Duterte uttered, “Don’t be president, if you can’t kill,” and claimed how it was part of the presidency to scare people, intimidate people, and to kill people.

A year after the proclamation, the President warned drug users that he was serious about eliminating drugs, even at the expense of one’s life. “My order is to shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.”

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) claimed that the license to kill gave rise to more than 20,000 deaths, contradicting the government’s official count at 6,600. The government manifested that 223,780 people associated with drugs were arrested during anti-illegal drugs operations . However, reports claim that it remains unclear whether due process of law was upheld during the arrests.

Despite the extrajudicial killings, Duterte pegged the crackdown as successful.

Human rights groups are still skeptical vis-à-vis the promised solution of the President towards crimes. In the report that was submitted to the UNHRC, it was stipulated that “The human rights situation in the Philippines is marked by an overarching focus on public order and national security, including on countering terrorism and illegal drugs. 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, the rule of law and accountability.”

While Iceland led the UN resolution to investigate the drug war deaths in the Philippines, Duterte decided to cut ties with them along with the other nations who also lobbied for investigation on the killings. Since then, no actions were done to inhibit more extrajudicial killings from occurring.

In fact, human rights violations in the Philippines intensified as the Philippines underwent lockdown due to the pandemic. The Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) confirmed 5,810 people were killed as of the end of July 2020 which proves that the killings increased by 50 percent.

Other Human Rights Violation

Apart from violations under Duterte’s anti-narcotics crackdown, several political groups raise concern on the passing of the Anti-Terrorism Law as it seeks to silence political dissenters. NUPL claimed that vilification of the state against political dissenters enables them to accuse anyone of terrorism.

While the government reassures the public that the law is set to combat terrorism, Karapatan argued that it will only embolden the government to commit more human rights violations with more impunity.

Meanwhile, AI Philippines Section Director Butch Olano affirmed how public safety and the respect for human life and human rights has been omitted since Duterte took office in 2016. Olano stated that the killing of Randy Echanis, for instance, is yet another addition to the intensifying attacks against political activists in the country. “This legacy of death must end now”, Olano added.

The administration is also persistent in condemning the media. This was evident in the forced closure of ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest media network, as well as the pressing of charges on Journalist Maria Ressa.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) said that the resolution fails to reflect the gravity of the situation. AI also believes that while the government’s tactics to delay an international investigation may have worked this time, the moment will come when justice will be done.

For human rights advocates, the aid that the UN wishes to provide is deemed insufficient. However, HRW claimed that state forces and Duterte will still be investigated due to the atrocities of the war on drugs and other human rights violations that persisted within the Philippines.

“States at the Human Rights Council should follow up and ensure an international investigation is launched in the event that the killings and crackdown on civil society does not end,” Laila Matar, deputy director for UN at HRW stated.

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