Karapatan: Duterte’s posturing at UNGA is a desperate attempt to evade accountability

Human rights alliance Karapatan decried President Rodrigo Duterte’s “glaring efforts to vilify human rights defenders in the Philippines and to undermine their calls for accountability” as he addressed the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) earlier today. Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated that Duterte “is posturing in making desperate pleas before the international community that is growing increasingly critical of his human rights record and tyrannical rule.”

“Duterte’s empty promise to ‘continue’ protecting the rights of Filipinos is betrayed when Duterte himself, just a few seconds later, continued to justify the drug war and the terror-tagging of human rights defenders, reiterating his administration’s distorted reasoning that the said campaigns are in protection of human life and the accusation that human rights groups and advocates are ‘weaponizing’ human rights,” Palabay said.

Duterte, in his address before the 75th session of the UNGA accused that “a number of interest groups have weaponized human rights” and how they supposedly pass themselves off as human rights advocates “while preying on the most vulnerable humans, even using children as soldiers or human shields in encounters,” such that “even schools are not spared from their malevolence and anti-government propaganda.” To move forward, he said, there must be “open dialogue and constructive engagement” with the UN “for productive international cooperation on human rights.”

The Karapatan officer rebuffed Duterte’s statements: “If his administration was truly for an open dialogue and constructive engagement with the UN and independent bodies, then he would’ve allowed the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and UN Special Rapporteurs to freely conduct an in-country investigation on the sham drug war and other human rights violations — but instead, their requests for such are met with threats of violence, wild accusations of foreign meddling, and demeaning insults. The Philippine government even rejected most of the findings and recommendations of the recent report of the Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights and is currently finding ways to evade independent investigation at the UN Human Rights Council.”

“The Philippine government’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute and its adverse reaction to examination by the International Criminal Court, as well as Duterte’s marching orders to Congress to legislate the reimposition of the death penalty, in direct violation of the Second Optional Protocol of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, speak of Duterte’s non-adherence to international human rights obligations,” she added.

While linking human rights to terrorists and armed rebels in the address, Duterte also justified the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Palabay continued that “the matter should be obvious to the international community at that very point: the Philippine Anti-Terrorism Act is not a law to combat terrorism in the country — it clearly aims to target critics, human rights advocates and defenders who expose the misdeeds of the administration.”

“As expected, Duterte’s lies, hollow promises, and honeyed words before the UNGA do not reflect the worsening public health, socio-economic, and human rights crisis that the Filipino people is currently facing, and this crisis will only worsen with the enactment of the Anti-Terrorism Act. Duterte’s lies are in full display before the international community, and now more than ever, the international community must assert that the UN Human Rights Council should exercise its mandate to conduct an independent and impartial investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines. They have to act now to hold Duterte accountable for his lies and attacks on the people,” she ended.