Human Rights Watch (HRW) called on president-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. of the Philippines to ensure a “transparent, inclusive process to select qualified and independent human rights experts” as members of the country’s Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
“President-elect Marcos should appoint commissioners with proven track records of defending human rights,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, in a statement on Tuesday, June 14.
“Given the grave human rights situation in the Philippines, these new commissioners should be independent and strongly committed to fearlessly and impartially upholding the commission’s mandate and duties,” he added.
Marcos, who will be inaugurated as the new Philippine president on June 30, 2022, is expected to announce his appointments to the human rights body in the coming days.
The CHR is empowered under the 1987 Philippine Constitution to investigate human rights violations and promote respect for human rights in the country.
HRW noted in its statement that Marcos ran on a campaign marked by disinformation about his family’s role in human rights abuses during the dictatorship of his father, Ferdinand Marcos Sr.
“The appointment of the commissioners will be an important first test for his administration’s commitment to human rights,” said the group.
The term of the five-member commission, the fifth group of commissioners since it was established in 1987, ended in May.
The Philippines Constitution prevents the outgoing president, Rodrigo Duterte, from appointing people to executive positions within two months before the presidential election, which took place on May 9. Commissioners are appointed to seven-year terms and cannot be reappointed.
In its statement, HRW said Marcos should convene an independent search committee that will come up with a short list of candidates for commissioners.
“This committee should identify individuals with strong human rights backgrounds and credentials,” it said, adding that participation from the Philippines’ human rights community and civil society should be encouraged so they can provide reputable candidates who represent vulnerable sectors, such as people with disabilities, older people, children, and LGBT people.
“Convening such a search committee will help ensure transparency in the process,” read the HRW statement.
It said that although previous administrations formed their own search committees for commission appointees, the process was not transparent, according to a former commission member.
The Paris Principles, established in 1993, set the criteria for maintaining the independence of national human rights institutions.
HRW said it was the widespread extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, and enforced disappearances during the martial law period from 1972 to 1986 that gave impetus for the creation of the CHR following the ouster of Marcos Sr. in 1986.
“Marcos is in a strong position to set the Commission on Human Rights in a positive direction for the next seven years by selecting independent, credible rights advocates as commissioners,” said Robertson said.
“By building up rather than tearing down the commission, Marcos would help dispel people’s fears about human rights under his administration,” he added.