MANILA - Malacañang on Thursday hit back at a United Nations special rapporteur for criticizing the Philippine government over supposed attacks against human rights defenders, saying it is now fed up with the international body being used by local interest groups to shame the administration.
In his world report, UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders Michel Forst called on the Philippine government to “end immediately all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances.”
Forst noted that President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs “has created a climate of insecurity and impunity for extrajudicial killings that affects human rights defenders”.
“Human rights defenders who face higher risks are those who defend farmers’ rights, land and environmental rights, peasant rights, indigenous rights and labor rights. Activists and politicians aligned with the left, journalists, and lawyers are also subject to higher levels of threats and attacks,” Forst said.
In a statement, Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said Forst’s report was “not only reckless but irresponsible as well for it not only demeans the integrity of the UNSR (special rapporteur) system but the entire UN mechanism itself.”
“We are fed up with this practice of using the UN as a platform to parrot baseless criticisms of local interest groups who are supported by resentful politicians belonging to the opposition,” Panelo said.
“For too long has the UN been used by these detractors as a tool for vilification. UNSRs should be less gullible as this reinforces the President’s contempt for them who have consistently manifested bias against the Philippines.”
Panelo said if Forst checked his facts, “he would have known that organizations presenting themselves as so-called human rights defenders never had it so good under the Duterte administration.”
“They continue to fully exercise all their rights to air issues and concerns related to their advocacies in an environment that is free and secure from any threat or harassment,” Panelo claimed.
“We challenge these local groups that have been feeding Mr. Forst with false information to submit their alleged cases of violations against their members to proper authorities.”
’STIGMA’ VS HUMAN RIGHTS DEFENDERS
In his report, Forst noted that the “stigmatization, defamation, judicial harassment, arbitrary arrest and criminalization of defenders is a key area of concern.”
“It has been reported that human rights defenders are subject to smear campaigns and online harassment. Government officials have tried to connect human rights defenders with the drug trade, communist groups, or terrorist groups,” Forst said.
Forst called on the government to review, amend, and/or repeal laws that restrict the right to freedom of opinion, expression, assembly, and association.
He also said the government should review and desist from employing counter-insurgency measures which result in extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances, and human rights violations.
The government should ensure that law enforcement officials are "properly trained and equipped to respect and protect human rights, and that their actions are subject to effective oversight,” he said.
He also sought stronger witness protection mechanisms to inspire confidence and encourage victims and witnesses to provide testimony without fear of reprisals.
“The government must reaffirm its commitment to the rule of law and ensure that human rights violations are properly investigated, including those allegedly committed by state actors, to make the perpetrators accountable and mitigate the culture of impunity,” he said.
Last year, the UN called out Duterte for his threat to slap UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who has been outspoken about supposed abuses in his drug war.
Callamard was supposed to investigate alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines early last year but did not push through as the Duterte administration imposed conditions, including a public debate with the president.