UNHCHR: Justice, accountability for victims of drug war still elusive

Participants display placards as they participate in a procession against plans to reimpose death penalty and intensify drug war during
Participants display placards as they participate in a procession against plans to reimpose death penalty and intensify drug war during "Walk for Life" in Luneta park, Metro Manila, Philippines February 24, 2018. UNHCHR in a report said that the Philippines must do better in providing justice and accountability for the victims of drug war. (Photo: REUTERS/Romeo Ranoco)

In a report released on Tuesday (September 14), the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) said that the Philippine government should do more in investigating human rights abuses and widespread killings during the Rodrigo Duterte administration.

“The government took some initiatives to advance accountability for human rights violations and abuses … However, access to justice for victims of human rights violations and abuses remained very limited,” the UNHCHR said.

“Institutional and structural shortcomings in law enforcement and the judiciary remained, despite efforts to address some cases,” they added.

The report highlighted shortcomings and inadequacies in the “oversight of human rights investigations, inadequate investigation capacity and inter-agency cooperation, limited forensic capacity and protracted judicial processes,” including not enough support and protection for victims and witnesses, as well as fears of retribution, affect victims’ engagement in seeking accountability.

While it took note of Manila’s pledge to work with UNHCHR under the UN Joint Program (UNJP), the report said that the victims of human rights abuses continue to face challenges in seeking justice and accountability.

“While implementation remains at an early stage, the initial progress has laid a solid foundation for future technical cooperation and capacity building. It is critical to maintain this momentum and commitment,” UNHCHR said.

The report recommends that the Philippine government, through the Department of Justice, accelerates its review of all drug-related killings and for the UNJP to ensure that the relevant findings are acted upon swiftly, either through internal administrative or criminal proceedings.

They also want to revise its policies and legislations in connection with the drug problem, and to make it in light with “human rights norms and international guidelines and drug policy.”

It is also calling for a revisit to the mandatory penalties for drug offenses, and for the government to consider decriminalizing drug possession for personal use.

The report also recommends the Philippine government pass legislation protecting human rights defenders, and implement measures that would protect civic space for these defenders to be able to do their job without fear of reprisal.

Finally, the report also recommends that the Philippine Government ensure the continued independence of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR), and appoint commissioners in line with the Paris Principles.

The release of the report was part of a resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in October 2020.

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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