MANILA - International experts on Thursday renewed calls for an independent probe of the rights situation in the Philippines, nearly a year after the UN rights body adopted a resolution seeking a comprehensive report on the country's alleged abuses.
The UN Human Rights Council released last June 4 its review, describing President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody drug war as "near impunity" for police and incitement to violence by top officials.
International rights experts, including United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard whom Duterte had threatened to "slap in person", said that the report clearly showed "widespread and systematic killings and arbitrary detention in the context of the war on drugs, killings and abuses targeting farmers and indigenous peoples, the silencing of independent media, critics and the opposition."
"The report recognizes important efforts to improve the protection of economic and social rights and stresses that these efforts should be guided by a human rights-based approach and focused on 'leaving no one behind'. The reports also finds, as we had, stark and persistent impunity,” they said in a statement Thursday.
“Given the scale and seriousness of the human rights violations," the experts called on the UNHRC to establish an "on-the-ground independent, impartial investigation" into human rights abuses in the country.
The rights advocates called attention to the report detailing thousands of people who were killed in the Philippines' drug war, including dozens of children. They said the total numbers of casualties of the anti-narcotics operations under Duterte maybe be actually triple of the official tally.
The imprisonment of staunch critic Sen. Leila de Lima, the shutdown of the ABS-CBN broadcast network, and the conviction of Rappler CEO and co-founder Maria Ressa of cyber libel were also highlighted by the rights advocates as part of "the staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault on the most basic rights of Filipinos at the hands of the government."
The experts said that the coronavirus pandemic has "further accelerated the downward spiral of the human rights situation" in the country.
"Police and the military have used violence and lethal force to enforce a quarantine imposed without due consideration for the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” they said.
The UN experts also slammed Duterte's earlier stern warning that he would order the military and police to "shoot dead" all those looking to stir public sentiment and chaos against the government during the COVID-19 crisis, after a protest rally by a group of Quezon City residents along EDSA was dispersed by authorities for violating the lockdown placed last March in Metro Manila.
“In response to the protests of poor Filipinos demanding food aid amid the COVID-19 lockdown, President Duterte reportedly authorized police and security forces to kill protesters saying: ‘Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave,’” they noted.
The UN advocates said Duterte's statement "could amount to incitement to violence and may be in violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (IICCPR) prohibition on arbitrary deprivation of life." IICCPR is a multilateral treaty adopted by UN General Assembly to ensure the protection of civil and political rights.
The experts also warned of the controversial anti-terror bill which was certified "urgent" by Duterte amid the pandemic, as it will "further dilute human rights safeguards, by justifying the arrests of human rights defenders and government’s critics, authorizing lengthy detention based on warrantless arrests, wiretapping and other surveillance for extended periods of time."
“Thousands in the Philippines have been killed as the direct result of government policies. Domestic mechanisms responsible for ensuring accountability and protecting the rule of law have failed to do so,” they said.
The international observers also emphasized the country's human rights situation has "reached a level of gravity requiring a robust intervention by the UN."
Besides an independent investigation, they called on the UNHRC to invigorate the mandate of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) in monitoring and reporting on rights abuses in the Philippines. They also sought the International Criminal Court to expedite and prioritize its preliminary review of the country's rights situation.
The Philippine government was also urged to "demonstrate real and credible progress toward accountability" by coordinating with the OHCHR and implementing policies according to the office's recommendations on fixing the country's right situations."
"We stand ready to provide technical assistance and advice to the [Philippine] government and the OHCHR," the experts said, adding governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution should be imposed against Filipino officials "who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.”
Besides Callamard, special rapporteurs, independent experts and working groups were part of the call for an independent probe into the Philippines' alleged human rights abuses.