Govt to defend human rights record before UN review


Posted at Apr 12 2008 12:25 AM | Updated as of Feb 23 2009 09:18 PM

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is in Geneva, Switzerland to present and defend the human rights record of the Philippines before the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of the Human Rights Council Friday. Among others, Ermita, plus the rest of the Philippine delegation, will tackle

Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita is in Geneva, Switzerland to present and defend the human rights record of the Philippines before the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) Working Group of the Human Rights Council Friday.

Among others, Ermita, plus the rest of the Philippine delegation, will tackle the following:

government's determination to improve the human rights record of the country; government institutions that address human rights concerns; the Arroyo administration's commitment to good governance and adherence to human rights principles; and, the government's human rights policies at a time when it is also battling armed insurgents.

The UN human rights body’s UPR is being conducted at a time when the Arroyo administration has been placed on the defensive for its human rights record, especially on the issue of extrajudicial killings.

Extrajudicial killings

Ermita is expected to defend the Philippine government’s response to extrajudicial killings, especially after it gained international attention in 2006.

Extrajudicial killings were significantly reduced in 2007 after Arroyo ordered police to hunt down suspects and to put a stop to the executions.

Philippine National Police chief Director General Avelino Razon Jr. also said Thursday that he is confident the Philippine government will pass with review with "flying colors."

Related StoriesExtra-judicial killings on top of review agenda—UPR Watch

"I think we will pass with flying colors dahil napakita naman natin sa previous HR (human rights) groups that government is taking active measures to stop. For the year 2006-2007 there was marked decrease in incidents of unexplained killings. Meron tayong programs to ensure observance of human rights," said Razon.

Ermita also denied reports that he supposedly hosted a lavish party for UN council members.

He said he merely socialized with the members of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) and told them about the government's agenda to clean up its human rights record.

Philippine National Report

In the Philippine National Report submitted to the Human Rights Council, the government cited its adherence to the human rights principles in different aspects such as:

"For complaints of human rights violations, effective remedies are available through judicial, administrative and legislative processes, including inquiries in aid of legislation, internal administrative disciplinary procedures in executive agencies, the police, and armed forces. Independent bodies such as the Ombudsman and CHRP also provide alternative procedures for complaints and redress." "In testimony of its firm commitment to the value and sanctity of human life and in the belief that the defense of life is strengthened by eliminating the exercise of judicial authorization to take life, the Philippines abolished the Death Penalty." "The Philippine government has taken firm measures to address the problem of extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances. Addressing this most urgent concern, by bringing their perpetrators to justice and preventing such killings in future, remains a priority of Government." "As a concrete manifestation of the Philippines’ willingness to cooperate with the international human rights system, it invited UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Executions, Professor Philip Alston, in February 2007."

The Philippines review is set to start 2:30 p.m. (8:30 p.m. in Manila) while the adoption of the report on the Philippines is set on Tuesday April 18.

Stakeholders’ submission and attendance

While the Philippine government will be defending its record, international Philippine human rights groups and civil society groups were also expected to be at the review deliberations. Activist groups including Bayan Muna are also in Geneva.

Based on published records of the UNHRC, 30 groups have prepared and submitted documents to the Office of the Commissioner of Human Rights. (OCHR), which has made a summary of the reports.

The Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines also made a submission.

The OCHR clarified, however, that its summary "does not contain any opinions, views or suggestions of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, nor any judgment or determination in relation to specific claims."

Amnesty International, in its submission, raised concern over shortcomings of legislation to prevent arbitrary arrest and unlawful detention. The international human rights body described concerns related to political killings and impunity for human rights violations, unfair trials, conditions of detention of both adults and minors, and torture and ill-treatment.

The OCHR summary contained such criticisms of the human rights in the country.

Among the examples:

"KARAPATAN reported that as of October 2007, there remain 235 political prisoners (29 of whom are women) in different prisons and detention centres throughout the Philippines. About 204 of them were arrested by the Arroyo Government, many without a warrant, and charged with criminal cases instead of political ones." "HRW (Human Rights Watch) stated that the Philippines is consistently failing in its obligations under international human rights law to hold accountable perpetrators of politically motivated killings. HRW mentioned that out of hundreds of killings and "disappearances" over the past five years, there have been only two successfully prosecuted cases resulting in the conviction of four defendants. HRW reported that no senior military officers has been convicted either for direct involvement or under command responsibility and stated that the National Police blames failures in the prosecution largely on witnesses’ unwillingness to cooperate." "In terms of freedom of expression, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted that the past two years have been marked by murders, physical attacks, arrests, abusive lawsuits and cases of censorship. At least six journalists were killed in 2006 and two in 2007. Defamation is still a criminal offence punishable by imprisonment.

Writ of amparo


DownloadsOCHR compilation of UN bodies information
OCHR summary of stakeholders submissions
Philippine National Report
Philippine National Report correction

While the summary is generally negative, the Supreme Court’s promulgation of the rule on the writ of amparo for cases of extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances was cited as positive steps by Amnesty International (AI).

AI however "expressed its concern that the implementation of the writ of amparo is endangered by the issuance by the President of Administrative Order 197." This order pushes for "legislation for safeguards against disclosure of military secrets and undue interference in military operations inimical to national security".

"This may be an attempt by the Government to counter amparo writs by invoking national security or confidentiality of information," AI said.

The non-government groups which submitted documents to OCHR were:

Amnesty International, Asian Indigenous Tribal Peoples Network, Asian Legal Resource Centre, Catholic Agency for Overseas Development, Centre for Reproductive Rights, Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions, Council on Population Health and Welfare, Diakonie, EnGendeRights, FIAN International, International Federation for Human Rights, Free Legal Assistance Group, Front Line, Global Initiative to End All Corporal Punishment of Children, GMA Watch.

Human Rights Watch, Ibon Foundation, Islamic Human Rights Commission, Indigenous People Rights Monitor Karapatan, National Council of Churches in the Philippines, NGO Working Group on Asia (Joint Submission), Norwegian Refugee Council, Joint submission of 29 NGOs, Partnership for Agrarian Reform and Rural Development Services, Reporters Without Borders, Society for Threatened Peoples, Unrepresented Nations and Peoples Organization, Womens Legal Bureau and World Organization Against Torture

First session

The first session of the UPR Working Group of the Human Rights Council started its first session April 7. It is set to last till 18 April.

Under the UPR mechanism, all UN member states will be reviewed within a period of four years in the first cycle – with 48 countries to be reviewed each year.

Aside from the Philippines, the 15 other countries under review during the first session of the UPR Working Group are: Algeria, Argentina, Bahrain, Brazil, Czech Republic, Ecuador, Finland, India, Indonesia, Morocco, the Netherlands, Poland, South Africa, Tunisia, and United Kingdom.

The UN human rights body has said that at the end of the session, the UPR Working Group will issue reports on each of the 16 countries reviewed, "containing, inter alia, an objective and transparent assessment of the human rights situation of the country, including positive developments and challenges; recommendations on best practices; provision of technical assistance, in consultation with, and with the consent of the State under review; and voluntary commitments and pledges made by the country concerned." - With a report from Nadia Trinidad