Nothing to fear if there is nothing to hide: Karapatan challenges PH gov’t to allow access to UN rights mechanisms

As the 45th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution on the Philippines today, Philippine human rights alliance Karapatan challenged the Philippine government to “allow the access of UN human rights mechanisms in the country to assess domestic accountability mechanisms if they are truly working and if they have nothing to hide.” The group asserted that “any measure for technical assistance and capacity-building should come from a concrete assessment of the realities on the ground.”

“These so-called domestic mechanisms have been presented routinely to portray a robust democracy yet time and time again, these have been exposed to have utterly failed in delivering justice and accountability for victims of human rights violations. No high official has been made accountable for directly ordering, inciting, encouraging, or tolerating these violations through policy and pronouncements. There is also a dire lack of evidence on whether these mechanisms have been effective in addressing these cases. This has led to increased international scrutiny over the Philippine government’s refusal to substantially and truthfully address these violations. If no access will be given to independent human rights mechanisms to get a sense of the rapidly deteriorating human rights situation on the ground, it would only go to show that the Duterte administration is indeed merely posturing to evade accountability,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

The recent UNHRC resolution which was adopted on October 7, 2020 in Geneva, Switzerland is “a sign that the international community remains committed in closely monitoring the situation of human rights in the country” according to Palabay, as it came after the damning report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, the numerous communications of UN Special Procedures to the Philippine government, the European Parliament resolution calling for the revocation of the Philippines’ trade privileges, and the measure seeking to end the United States’ (US) military and police aid to the Philippine government introduced before the US Congress.

Palabay, however, said that “the Duterte administration actively continues its sham and bloody drug war along with its efforts to vilify activists and human rights defenders under the guise of counterterrorism, to attack and silence government critics, journalists and the political opposition, to use the COVID-19 pandemic to suppress civil liberties and the exercise of our political rights, and even to outrightly deny cases of human rights violations — even as it supposedly engages in domestic mechanisms — already underscores the very incapacity of measures for technical cooperation and capacity-building.”

“The resolution disappointingly looks over the urgent demands of victims, their families and communities for substantial steps towards justice and accountability; it falls short of a decisive and adequate response to the worsening human rights crisis in the country — and we strongly believe that technical cooperation and capacity-building activities would not stop the administration’s human rights violations. Such can only be done by putting a stop to the killings and other rights violations, prosecuting the perpetrators of such violations, repealing laws and policies that facilitate these violations such as Executive Order No.70 and the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, and through an international, independent, and impartial investigation into these violations — which is even more pressing if no changes come after this resolution,” the Karapatan officer said.

Palabay called on governments, parliaments, civil society groups, and international non-governmental organizations “to conduct independent investigations to validate the real situation of human rights in the Philippines, since domestic mechanisms have failed to bring justice to the victims of the Duterte administration’s unrelenting assault on Filipinos’ human rights and civil liberties — for the obvious reason that these mechanisms are within the claws of the very people and institutions that are supposed to be investigated for perpetrating violations of human rights.”

“As we reassert our call for an international and independent investigative mechanism into the worsening human rights situation in the country, we reaffirm our commitment to continue our struggle against Duterte’s fascist and tyrannical rule in all arenas and venues at the domestic and international levels. We will continue to engage the UNHRC, the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, UN Special Procedures, UN Treaty Bodies, the International Criminal Court and other mechanisms to demand, seek, and attain justice for the victims of human rights violations in the Philippines,” she ended.