MANILA — Human Rights Watch is unimpressed with a recently-signed document between the United Nations (UN) and the Philippine government intended to support the country’s human rights programs.
Human Rights Watch Asia senior researcher Carlos Conde said the government’s claim that this shows the Philippines’ commitment to human rights is “spin."
“The agreement with the UN should not by itself be considered progress, which should be measured by accountability and effective reforms,” he said in a statement, noting that killings continue with almost zero accountability.
The UN Joint Program on Technical Cooperation and Capacity-Building for Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in the Philippines was signed on Thursday, a result of last year's UN Human Rights Council vote.
Human rights groups have criticized the outcome as stopping short of launching a full independent, international probe on the drug war killings in the country which has killed more than 6,000 drug suspects, if based on official figures, or more than 30,000 persons, if based on monitoring of rights groups.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra had touted the UN Joint Program as a foundation for a “more meaningful realization of gains in human rights development over the years."
“With the UNJP, the Philippines stands to gain much-needed advisory and capacity-building assistance and in-country support from relevant experts. These will be provided to various institutions in fulfilling the Philippine Government’s international human rights obligations and commitments in the spirit of partnership, trust-building, and constructive engagement,” Guevarra said.
Justice Undersecretary Adrian Sugay said the UN Joint Program will run for 3 years and will cover, among others, strengthening the domestic investigation capability, data gathering and national mechanism for reporting; expanding civic space and engagement with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights; and implementing rights-based approaches towards drug control and counter-terrorism.
CHR had welcomed the signing of the agreement.
“We trust that relevant government agencies, including the Department of Justice and the Philippine National Police, will do its best in addressing the observed “widespread and systematic killings” and prevalence of other human rights violations raised by the international community and the subsequent commitment of the government to address these transgressions and improve compliance to human rights obligations and standards,” it said in a statement.
But Human Rights Watch said that while UNJP offers areas of engagement that will help in the long run, it will not address the core problem: convincing Duterte to reverse course and hold abusive officials accountable.
“After all, the killings continue and accountability is practically zero,” he said.
HRW had earlier noted that not even the pandemic has stopped the killings in the drugs war.
Conde cited Duterte's #SONA2021 statements on Monday taunting the International Criminal Court and urging more killings as proof of PH govt's lack of commitment to the UN program.
In his speech, Duterte dared the ICC to “record” his threats as he again told law enforcers to shoot dead those that smuggle firearms into the country and those who will destroy Filipino youths.
"I’ll never deny, and the ICC can record it: Those who destroy my country, I will kill you," he said.
"And those who destroy the young people of our country, I will kill you. Talagang yayariin kita (I will really end you) because I love my country. We all can do it the legal way but it would take you months and years," he added.
Conde said Duterte’s statements betrayed the Philippine government’s professed commitment to human rights.
“By doubling down on his murderous policy, he is revealing his government’s lack of commitment to the UN program his government just announced. The true test of the administration’s sincerity will be its willingness to end state-sanctioned killings and uphold its international human rights obligations. Manila can start by supporting genuine accountability and by cooperating with the ICC investigation,” he said.
In an interview with ANC Thursday, Conde said the drug war and attacks on activists had remained since Duterte took office in 2016.
"We think that this shows to you this general disregard for human rights and due process by the Philippine government," he said. "It's been a very, very grim picture in the past 5 years under the President."
Conde also criticized as a "cynical move" Duterte's taunt against the ICC.
"I think the President is trying to make it appear that the police are the victims here and the police are the ones whose rights are being violated. Nothing is further from the truth," he said.
"I mean, evidence and all these thousands of bodies we've seen clearly point to police culpability in many instances of violation of human rights and due process."