MANILA – Even while the International Criminal Court (ICC) has moved to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte and his war on drugs, an independent investigation on alleged human rights abuses in the Philippines is still needed, a civil society group has said.
Civicus, an international civil society alliance, on Thursday released a brief calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to “establish an independent investigative mechanism, mandated to conduct an in-depth investigation into human rights violations and abuses in the Philippines, with a view to contributing to accountability and justice for victims.”
The group noted that killings of activists and lawyers and attacks on press freedom in the Philippines continued even after the government signed a deal with the United Nations for a joint program on human rights.
“Look, the ICC probe came out of tireless research and advocacy from civil society and we’re really glad that this is proceeding. But it only [looks] at violations happening between 2011 and 2019, and not violations happening after that. And it only [looks] at serious human rights violations, crimes against humanity, and so forth,” said Civicus civic space researcher Josef Benedict.
“So definitely there are many other violations that will not be investigated by the International Criminal Court and therefore this investigative body is still very necessary to look at many other violations that have happened in the Philippines,” he added.
In the interview, Benedict also blasted a UNHRC resolution that called for technical cooperation and capacity-building for promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines, but stopped short of launching an independent probe into killings in the country.
“It was an extremely weak resolution because ultimately, what we want to do is to address the culture of impunity in the Philippines for the violations that have been happening there,” he said.
“While technical assistance is good, it only takes you up to some level, and what we see is that the Philippines government basically ignoring many of the commitments they have made at the human rights council.”
In its latest brief, Civicus noted the arrest of journalist Lady Ann Salem and six other trade unionists as an example of judicial persecution of human rights defenders and activists.
The group also took note of the “Bloody Sunday” killings in March this year.
Civicus also noted the killing of lawyer Angelo Karlo Guillen as part of the record number of lawyers killed in the country.
The group recommended that the Philippine government “immediately dismiss the fabricated charges and release all other human rights defenders and activists who have been arbitrarily detained for their activism.”
It also called for prompt, thorough, impartial and effective investigations into the killings of human rights activists, lawyers and journalists.
In December 2020, Civicus downgraded the civic space rating of the Philippines from “obstructed” to “repressed” in its report.
Asked if the Philippines is due for another civic space rating downgrade this year, Benedict said, “We’ll have to review the situation but based on what we are seeing on the ground, the situation for, the protection of fundamental freedoms have not changed and there are serious concerns that we continue to have on the Philippines.”