By Manny Mogato, News5 editor-at-large
(June 30, 2020) – President Rodrigo Duterte’s four-year-old government has been unwilling to hold accountable state security forces and other people behind extrajudicial killings, which it described as “widespread” and systematic”, the United Nations human rights office sad in a report on Tuesday.
Speaking at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva, Chilean Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, reported her findings of a one-year study on the human rights situation in the poor Southeast Asian country.
The report was requested by the Human Rights Council based on a resolution introduced by Iceland, which asked an on-the-ground investigation of the situation in the Philippines.
“The findings of the report are very serious,” Bachelet said in her address to the council. “The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing.”
Bachelet, who served twice as president of Chile until 2018, said nearly 250 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists were killed between 2015 and 2019.
The victims include a large number of environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders, she said describing how human rights defenders were “routinely smeared as terrorists, enemies of the State and even viruses akin to COVID-19.”
“We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the State to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings,” Bachelet said. “Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice.”
The UN Office of High Commission on Human Rights based its reports on hundreds of submissions from organizations and individuals across the Philippines after Bachelet’s team was not granted access to the country to investigate.
She also urged the popular leader not to sign the anti-terrorism bill which was enacted by Congress early this month, raising concerns “about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism”.
“The law could have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities,” she added.
The president, she suggested, should initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism – but which contains safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy.
Bachelet even offered to help the Philippines craft an anti-terrorism legislation which respects and upholds human rights.
She said the Office of the High Commission on Human Rights is ready to cooperate and work closely with the Philippine government to help strengthen domestic accountability mechanisms; improve data gathering on alleged police violations; review of legislation and policies on drug control and terrorism; and help to bridge gaps between civil society and state authorities.
Bachelet said the Philippines has an obligation to conduct independent investigations into the grave violations that were documented by her team.
“In the absence of clear and measurable outcomes from domestic mechanisms,” she said, “the Council should consider options for international accountability measures”.
Last week, a group of 30 UN experts called on the global community to impose sanctions against the individual Philippine officials for human rights violations, asking the UN to intervene in the Philippines.
Bachelet also urged the UN Human Rights Council to remain active and vigilant on the situation in the Philippines, by continuously monitoring and reporting the situation in the country.
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