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UNHRC resolution on Philippine rights situation falls short of expectations — rights groups

Human Rights Watch said the resolution is clear that those behind the killings “are not off the hook and will face continued examination”

Rights groups in the Philippines have expressed dismay over a UN Human Rights Council resolution that failed to call for an international investigation into the human rights situation in the country.

“The UNHRC resolution … falls short of our expectation,” read a statement from the National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP).

The UNHRC resolution calls for “technical assistance and capacity-building” for the Philippines to fulfill its international human rights obligations and commitments.

The resolution falls short of the expectations of many human rights activists for an independent international investigation into alleged state violence in the country.

UNHRC Resolution No. 45, which was adopted during the council’s 45th session in Geneva, Switzerland, on October 7 was sponsored by Iceland, the Philippines, and six other nations.

It urges member states and UN agencies to “encourage and support technical cooperation” between the Philippine government and the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights.

The resolution also “recognizes” Philippine government initiatives to review and reevaluate the extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations under the country’s “drug war.”

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The resolution notes the Philippine government’s cooperation and participation with the UNHRC, including its “announcement of the creation of a review panel that would re-evaluate cases where deaths occurred during operations under the anti-illegal drugs campaign.”

Proof of rights abuses

“Truth be told, [the resolution] does not mirror the findings and recommendations in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights,” read the NCCP statement.

The Protestant church group said the resolution “does not answer our fervent call for an independent international investigation.”

It added, however, that the UNHRC pronouncement “does not exonerate the Philippine government from accountability for its many human rights violations among its citizens.”

“It is, in fact, an acknowledgement that there is a serious human rights problem in the country: a crisis that is not being adequately addressed by the Philippine government,” said the NCCP.

The resolution came two months after a damning report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the “persistent and widespread killings and human rights violations” in the country.

The Ecumenical Voice for Human Rights and Peace in the Philippines said the resolution, “despite its shortcomings,” is an indication of the international community’s acknowledgement of the human rights crisis in the country.

“It is likewise proof that [President Rodrigo Duterte’s] administration, despite its posturing and rhetoric, caved in to domestic and international pressure for justice and accountability,” read the group’s statement.

EcuVoice, however, noted that the resolution “stops short in providing more meaningful actions” to address the human rights situation in the country.

“We believe that programs for technical cooperation and capacity building would not decisively curb the worsening human rights situation in the country,” read the group’s statement.

Families of victims of drug-related killings in the Philippines join a Human Rights Day march in Manila in 2018 to call for an end to the killings of suspected drug users and peddlers. (Photo by Basilio Sepe)

Missed chance for justice

Amnesty International described the UNHRC resolution as “a missed opportunity to seek justice for thousands of unlawful killings.”

“The human rights situation in the Philippines warrants more than just ‘technical assistance’ from the UN,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Philippines Researcher at Amnesty International.

She said a full international investigation to effectively address the pervasive impunity in the country is “urgently needed.”

“The Human Rights Council failed to advance justice for bereaved families across the Philippines who had placed their hopes in the international community,” added Chhoa-Howard.

She said the “weak resolution also lets down the brave human rights defenders, journalists and others who have engaged with the UN in good faith and pursue their work at huge personal risk.”

Amnesty International noted a “continued deterioration of the human rights situation” in the Philippines over the last few months.

The group described as “major warning signs” the conviction of well-known journalist Maria Ressa for “cyber libel” and the closure of major media network ABS-CBN.

The international human rights watchdog also noted a new spike in the killings of human rights and political activists in recent months.

Amnesty International’s Chhoa-Howard, however, said the decision to keep the Philippines on the UNHRC’s agenda “sends a clear message to the Duterte administration that the international community is still watching.”

Family members of victims of drug-related killings in the Philippines hold a demonstration in Manila in 2019 to call for an independent investigation into the government’s “war on drugs.” (Photo by Basilio Sepe)

‘Not off the hook’

Human Rights Watch said the resolution is clear that those behind the killings “are not off the hook and will face continued examination.”

In a statement, the group said the adopted resolution means the Duterte administration cannot escape scrutiny for its “egregious violations.”

Laila Matar, deputy UN director of Human Rights Watch said the council “retains the means to take more robust action, depending on whether the government keeps its word to respect human rights.”

Matar said states at the HRC should ensure an international investigation is launched in the event that the killings and crackdown on civil society in the Philippines does not end.

The UNHRC adopted the resolution titled “Technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines” on October 7.

The resolution keeps the Philippines on the agenda of the UNHRC for the next two years.

It requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights to update the council on the Philippine situation in September 2021 and to submit a report to the council in 2022.

The resolution also underlines the importance of accountability and calls for “full and transparent investigations,” prosecution of violators, and support to establish “human rights based approaches to drug control.”

The resolution fails to reflect the gravity of the situation on the ground or the findings of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in a report in June this year, mandated by the HRC’s own resolution in 2019.

The report, published in June 2020, found that the ongoing killings in the context of the so-called “war” on illegal drugs in the Philippines have a “widespread and systematic character.”

The resolution also fails to establish the international investigation repeatedly called for by UN experts and civil society around the world, and more importantly by organizations and human rights defenders in the Philippines.

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