UN special rapporteur to return to PH to train doctors, prosecutors on 'suspicious deaths'

Mike Navallo, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 12 2023 07:28 PM

Dr. Morris Tidball-Binz also met with forensic pathologist, rights defenders during his first visit

MANILA — Forensic expert and United Nations (UN) special rapporteur Morris Tidball-Binz will be back in the country sometime this year to train Filipino doctors and prosecutors on how to properly investigate suspicious deaths, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla said.

Tidball-Binz was in the country from February 7 to 9 on an academic visit, upon the invitation of Remulla.

He was invited in his capacity as forensic expert to help in “capacity-building” efforts of the Department of Justice (DOJ).

Aside from his meeting with DOJ officials, Tidball-Binz also met with local experts and human rights defenders.

In a series of tweets Saturday, forensic pathologist Dr. Raquel Fortun shared photos of her February 8 meeting with the UN special rapporter along with other international experts in her office at the University of the Philippines College of Medicine, where she heads the Department of Pathology.

The experts were Atty. Kingsley Abbott of the International Commission of Jurists, Dr. Stephen Cordner, a professor emeritus at the Department of Forensic Medicine at the Monash University, Rafael Baretto from the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime and Signe Elneff Poulsen who is a senior human rights adviser at the UN Resident Coordinator’s Office.

“Showed them the department, where the training classes can be held. UPCM Dean Charlotte Chiong was there with me,” she said in a message to ABS-CBN News.

“They’re planning on holding a course to promote the Minnesota protocol on investigations,” she added.

The Minnesota Protocol is a set of international guidelines for the probe of potentially unlawful deaths which was introduced in 2016 as an update on the 1991 UN Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary and Summary Executions.

It is used around the world not only as an educational resource but also as a practical guide and a legal standard.

“A suspicious death occurring anywhere in the world is potentially a violation of the right to life, often described as the supreme human right, and therefore a prompt, impartial and effective investigation is key to ensuring that a culture of accountability — rather than impunity — prevails,” said former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein in the protocol’s foreword.

Fortun, who has been involved in several high profile autopsies including the re-autopsy of teenage drug war victim Kian Loyd delos Santos, tweeted it was a “great meeting.”

“It felt a tad less lonely (and scary). Thank you for coming,” she said. “And there are people outside who care.”

Some 35 medical doctors and prosecutors are expected to join Tidball-Binz’s training, which will run for 14 to 21 days twice this year, according to Remulla.

It is scheduled between May to August this year, he said. The Philippine government will ask the UN Joint Program for Human Rights for funding.


In another meeting last Tuesday, February 7, Dr. Tidball-Binz and other experts had dinner with former Commission on Human Rights commissioner Karen Gomez Dumpit, lawyer Ray Paolo Santiago of the Ateneo Human Rights Center, Joy Lascano of Balay Rehabilitation Center and Boris Michel of the International Committee of the Red Cross, based on photos shared on social media by Human Rights Watch senior Philippines researcher Carlos Conde.

It was organized by UN resident coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez.


“The academic (unofficial) visit to the Philippines of UN special rapporteur on #EJKs Dr.Morris Tidball-Binz and his team of experts is seen by rights groups as a positive development that will usher in a new era of openness as the Philippines continues to grapple with rights issues,” Conde said in a tweet.

“I and other NGO reps had the privilege this week of knowing more about his mandate and how victims of rights abuses can benefit from it,” he said, adding in a Facebook post that they had a “frank and open discussion about the state of human rights in the Philippines and what needs to be done.”

On the same day, Tidball-Binz also met with rights group KARAPATAN secretary general Cristina Palabay, Rubylin Litao from Rise Up for Life and for Rights, Xandra Bisenio from IBON and National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers’ Krissy Conti, who is accredited as assistant to counsel at the International Criminal Court. 

Reflecting on the state of crime scene investigation in the country, Conti said not all cases have good crime scene management and documentation, which will benefit the police, who are, “if not the prime suspects, then the clear beneficiaries of the death and silencing of a person.”

“One hallmark of EJKs is state participation, and the ensuring of impunity - that no one is made to account,” she said.

“The challenge now for the government is to make sure that investigations deal well with object evidence - no tampering, no gaps in the chain of custody, no cover ups. And that the investigators and the prosecutors use it fairly even when the perpetrator is a state law enforcement officer,” she added.

Karapatan welcomed Tidball-Binz’s visit but cautioned that addressing impunity should go beyond capacity-building.


“[I]t isn’t solely the lack of capacity on forensic pathology or knowledge of international human rights norms that are affecting government investigations on cases of extrajudicial killings. It is a systemic problem driven by government policies such as those on the drug war and counterinsurgency programs – policies which have resulted in the mass murder of Filipinos, mostly from poor communities,” Palabay said in a statement.

“As long as there is no acknowledgment of these impacts and as long as these policies remain, extrajudicial killings and a host of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law will continue,” she added.

Among the laws and policies she cited are the executive order creating the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC), the Anti-Terrorism Act, the terrorist designation of individual peace consultants and human rights defenders, and the alleged judicial harassment and red-tagging.

“All task forces, commissions, or panels created by the government, including the task force on Administrative Order No. 35 and the drug war review panel, have failed to fully and adequately render justice to the victims of EJKs and their families,” Karapatan said.

The group stressed the need for an independent investigation by the UN Human Rights Council and an official investigation by UN Special Procedures into the reports of extrajudicial killings and other rights violations.

The International Criminal Court recently resumed its probe into the killings in the drug war.

The High Level Tripartite Mission of the International Labor Organization also recently concluded its investigation on violations of freedom of association and right to collective bargaining of workers in the country.

Tidball-Binz's visit did not include a discussion on cases of extrajudicial killings as he was invited in his personal capacity as a forensic expert, not as UN special rapporteur on EJKs. 

Remulla however said they shared with him “trends" the DOJ is following and the measures they are taking in investigating alleged EJKs.


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