HRW calls on UN human rights council for stronger resolution in Philippines

A protestor holds a placard that reads
A protestor, maintaining social distancing from others to prevent the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19), holds a placard that reads "Human Rights Defenders are not terrorists" during a rally against the anti-terror bill that was approved by President Rodrigo Duterte the day before, in Quezon City, Metro Manila, Philippines, July 4, 2020. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez)

As the 51st session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) opens Monday (September 12), Human Rights Watch (HRW) is calling on the body, and other UN member states, to take a stronger resolution in addressing the human rights situation in the Philippines.

In a statement, HRW said that the Philippine government’s war on drugs, the signature policy of the former President Rodrigo Duterte's administration, continues to this day, citing a study conducted by the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies, Dahas.

The said study revealed that there have already been 72 reported drug-related killings after President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office on June 30.

“UN member states should not be fooled by the baseless claims from the Philippine government that the rights situation has suddenly improved, Lucy McKernan, HRW’s Geneva director, said.

“Continued UN scrutiny of the Philippines is vitally important because ‘drug war’ killings are still common and police impunity for rights violations remains the norm,” she added.

Figure from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in its report “Situation of human rights in the Philippines” pegged the death toll from the drug war at 8,663, although the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and other human rights organizations in the Philippines, said that the real figure is probably thrice the number.

In June of this year, International Criminal Court’s (ICC) Prosecutor, Karim Khan, asked for the reopening of the investigation after finding out that the Philippines has not acted upon any investigation on its “nationals or others within its jurisdiction” on crimes related to the drug war.

“I have concluded that the deferral request by the Philippines is not warranted and that the investigation should resume as quickly as possible,” Khan said.

Meanwhile, the Philippine government, in a comment submitted to the ICC through the Philippine Embassy at The Hague, said that the reopening of the investigation is not warranted.

HRW said that the continuing dire situation of human rights in the Philippines should concern UN member states, and must adopt a strong resolution in its 51st session to expand the human rights monitoring mechanisms under the UN Joint Program, an independent body created in 2020 by the UNHRC to help institutions in the Philippines in protecting human rights.

They are also calling on President Marcos to end the drug war and prioritize accountability for unlawful killings, including freeing former Senator Leila de Lima, and appoint human rights experts in the CHR “so that it can investigate and help prosecute human rights violations.”

“UN member states should make sure they don’t drop the ball on the Philippines and instead strengthen the Human Rights Council’s efforts to improve human rights in the country,” McKernan said.

“Filipinos who suffered the most during the Duterte administration are looking to the Human Rights Council to help them achieve justice for themselves and their loved ones,” McKernan added.

Marvin Joseph Ang is a news and creative writer who follows developments on politics, democracy, and popular culture. He advocates for a free press and national democracy. Follow him on Twitter at @marvs30ang for latest news and updates. The views expressed are his own.

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