July 12, 2019
GENEVA: The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) on Thursday narrowly approved a resolution mandating a “comprehensive” international review of the Philippines drug war, which watchdogs say had killed more than 20,000 people.
The resolution had faced strong pushback from President Rodrigo Duterte’s government, which counters that the toll had been exaggerated — its estimates say 5,300 had died — and that the crackdown had the strong support of many Filipinos.
Duterte’s three-year so-called drug war has unleashed a surge of bloodshed in the Asian nation, with reports of nightly slaying of suspects by police and masked gunmen.
Activists said they had initially hoped the UN resolution would call for a formal “inquiry,” but compromised on a “report” to win a majority.
The text, initially proposed by Iceland, secured the backing of 18 states in the 47-member rights council, with 14 nations voting against and 15 abstentions.
It calls on UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to prepare a “comprehensive written report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines,” over the coming year.
Manila’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva Evan Garcia immediately rejected the result.
“We will not accept a politically partisan and one-sided resolution,” Garcia said after the vote, reading a statement on behalf of Foreign Secretary Teodoro Locsin.
“This resolution does not represent a triumph of human rights but a travesty of them,” Garcia said, adding, “There will be consequences.”
When the former UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein previously raised concern about the drug war, Duterte called him an “idiot” and a “son of bitch.”
Deputy Geneva Director for Human Rights Watch Leila Matar described the resolution as “a modest but vital” step that “signals the start of accountability for thousands of ‘drug war’-related killings.”
Amnesty International hailed Thursday’s vote as “crucial.”
It “provides hope for thousands of bereaved families in the Philippines, and countless more Filipinos bravely challenging the Duterte administration’s murderous ‘war on drugs,’” Amnesty’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin said in a statement.
In addition to a report by Bachelet, the report raises concern on a range of alleged abuses under Duterte, including “killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrest and detention,” among others.
The drug war, launched in 2016, is Duterte’s signature initiative. He has often reacted with fury when outsiders raise concerns about the project.
Earlier this month, he said “extrajudicial killing is okay, but not corruption,” though he did not elaborate further.
Human rights group Karapatan welcomed the passing of the resolution.
“This comes at a most pressing and opportune time as the Duterte government is set to report on its ‘achievements’ after three years in office. This is a significant step towards accountability and we applaud the UNHRC’s decision to not remain complicit amid the rights violations being perpetrated in the Philippines. This is not the end-all, be-all of our efforts to exact accountability, but we take it as a critical start. This is a decision on the side of justice,” said Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay.
“An independent investigation into reported human rights violations in line with the government’s anti-narcotics campaign and its counterinsurgency program is long overdue. This resolution will initiate the start of a close monitoring on the rights situation in the country. Other efforts domestically, regionally and internationally will likewise move forward, the aggregate of which will expectedly bring out the changes in policy and in leadership that prioritizes human and people’s rights,” Palabay added.
Locsin downplayed the effect of the adoption of the resolution to review.
“Such resolutions especially those passed by a tiny minority can and will be ignored. No consequences,” Locsin said on Twitter.
“On the other hand, the initiative to insult the Philippines with the assumption without proof that it commits gross abuses there will be far reaching consequences,” he added.
He, however, warned the countries who voted in favor of the UN move to investigate the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
“Actually [it has] no effect but for those who voted to insult us, the consequences will be far reaching,” Locsin said in another tweet.
He said the Philippines will not cooperate with the concerned UN agencies who will conduct the review.
“This resolution was not universally adopted. Therefore, its validity is highly questionable. It does not represent the will of the Council, much less that of the developing countries who are always the target of such resolutions,” he said in a statement.
He claimed that the resolution “was pushed with the arrogance that developing countries must not stand up to them even if we can and as we hereby do. There will be consequences,” Locsin said.
“But let us be clear on this: This resolution is not a triumph of human rights but a travesty of them that should honor the character of the author and co-sponsors of the resolution,” he said.
“It is an example of how these countries — they who are least entitled to make such accusations, incited by false information from sources peddling their untruths for money, or who have allowed themselves to be played by the ill will of a few — have undermined the Human Rights Council to advance their agenda and target a government that’s hostile to the very things they have done and continue to do, and about which there is overwhelming proof,” he said.
With a reports from AFP AND DIVINE JOY DELA CRUZ
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