38 UNHRC member-states urge PH to cooperate in human rights assessment

ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jun 23 2018 12:43 AM | Updated as of Jun 23 2018 01:37 AM

Head of the Philippines' delegation Menardo Guevarra (2nd left) speaks with a man prior to the start of universal periodic review of the Philippines by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights at the U.N. offices in Geneva. Fabrice Coffrini, AFP/file photo

MANILA (UPDATED) - Thirty-eight member-states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) have urged the Philippine government to cooperate in assessing the human rights situation in the country.

In a joint statement delivered by Iceland on Tuesday, the member states said they were "encouraged by reports that the Government of the Philippines has indicated a willingness to cooperate with the U.N. to allow an objective assessment of the human rights situation in the country."

"We urge the Government of the Philippines to cooperate with the United Nations system—including the Human Rights Council and its special procedure mandate holders—without preconditions or limitations," the member-states said in a joint statement during the general debate at the 38th session of the UNHRC in Geneva.

U.N. Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard previously urged the Philippine government to lift its conditions on her investigation because they go against the U.N.'s code of conduct and procedures.

In March, Malacañang said the U.N. would propose names of investigators who would look into President Rodrigo Duterte’s controversial war on drugs.

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque earlier said Callamard was unfit to conduct an "objective and unbiased" inquiry given her earlier statements against the government's anti-drug campaign. 

The member-states encouraged the Philippines to tackle the country's drug problem "in full respect of the rule of law and compliance with international human rights obligations."

"While acknowledging that drug use in the Philippines is a serious problem, actions to tackle drug abuse must be carried out in full respect of the rule of law and compliance with international human rights obligations," the statement said. 

"We urge the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable," they said.

A conservative estimate by the police put the death toll in the war on drugs at over 4,000, but human rights groups say this is grossly understated.

Duterte has lashed out at any criticism of his war on drugs, telling the police to continue with their anti-drug operations.

The member-states also expressed concern over reports of alleged "harassment of persons exercising their rights to freedom of opinion and expression."

"We call upon the Philippines to provide and guarantee a safe and secure environment for all, including journalists and Human Rights defenders," they said.

In May, a group of artists and media practitioners called on United Nations special rapporteur David Kaye to investigate the alleged threats to press freedom and freedom of expression by the Duterte administration.

The Philippines slipped 6 places in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index, according to media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

Out of 180 countries, the Philippines ranked 133rd, lower than last year's 127th ranking, which RFS attributed to a "growing animosity" towards journalists that is "openly encouraged" by political leaders.

The countries also said that member-states of the UNHRC are "expected to uphold the highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights during their time as members."

"The Human Rights Council has a responsibility to fulfill its duty to promote universal respect for the protection of all human rights and fundamental freedoms for all, without distinction of any kind and in a fair and equal manner," they said.

"If needed, the Council may take further steps, including a more formal Council initiative to try and ensure that member states meet their human rights obligations."

The following countries signed the joint statement: Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.

The Palace has yet to issue a response regarding the joint statement of the 38 UNHRC member-states.

The foreign minister of Iceland earlier urged the UNHRC to take further initiatives into investigations of human rights violations in the Philippines in connection with the country’s war on drugs.

In a speech during council's 37th session in Geneva, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson welcomed the International Criminal Court’s earlier announcement that it would conduct a preliminary examination into killings linked to the drug war but challenged the council to do more.

The U.N. Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the U.N. system composed of 47 states responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. Based in Geneva, its members are elected by the UN General Assembly and serve for a three-year term.