By RONALYN V. OLEA
The pending appointment of former Akbayan Rep. Loretta Ann “Etta” Rosales to the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) would violate United Nations’ standards for human rights commissions and may cause the downgrading of status of the country’s rights body.
International bodies are urging the Aquino administration to establish a participatory process in choosing and appointing the next chairperson of the independent Commission on Human Rights. Just as the issues of extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, and other human rights violations are an international concern, so is the independence of the CHR.
International groups wrote to President Benigno S. Aquino III raising concerns about the appointment of the next CHR chairperson.
“It will be important that the appointment procedures you adopt can be held up as international best practices so that the next CHR Chairperson can start on a firm foundation,” said Rooslyn Noonan, chairperson of the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (ICC). The ICC, the worldwide association of rights commissions and ombudsmen, is recognized by the UN as the body that accredits human rights commissions according to their compliance with the standards known as the Paris Principles.
The Paris Principles, also known as the Principles Relating to the Status of National Human Rights Institutions, were adopted by the U.N. General Assembly through Resolution 48/134 of 20 December 1993.
The Paris Principles states:
1. The composition of the national institution and the appointment of its members, whether by means of an election or otherwise, shall be established in accordance with a procedure which affords all necessary guarantees to ensure the pluralist representation of the social forces (of civilian society) involved in the protection and promotion of human rights, particularly by powers which will enable effective cooperation to be established with, or through the presence of, representatives of:
( a ) Non-governmental organizations responsible for human rights and efforts to combat racial discrimination, trade unions, concerned social and professional organizations, for example, associations of lawyers, doctors, journalists and eminent scientists;
( b ) Trends in philosophical or religious thought;
( c ) Universities and qualified experts;
( d ) Parliament;
( e ) Government departments (if these are included, their representatives should participate in the deliberations only in an advisory capacity).
The ICC laid down the following criteria for the selection and appointment process: there should be a transparent process, broad consultation throughout the selection and appointment process, advertising vacancies broadly, maximizing the number of potential candidates from a wide range of societal groups and selecting members to serve in their individual capacity rather than on behalf of the organization they represent.
In another letter, the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), said that the failure to undertake such a process may be seen as breaching the Paris Principles and may lead to a review of the accreditation status of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines.
In a separate letter, the international NGO, Civicus, wrote to Aquino: “We ask that you guarantee the independence of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines in line with the United Nations’ Principles Relating to the Status of National Human Rights Institutions.”
“The front-runner candidate should not have a problem with an open selection process, with her credentials and long advocacy. In fact, with this process, critics of candidates will have to make their negative statements in public, with some proof, instead of unsubstantiated comments to the press,” CHR Commissioner Cecilia R.V. Quisumbing said.
Losing the A-status
According to Quisumbing, the CHR has already been warned by the international accreditation body in its past review that the process of selecting its members does not meet the Paris Principles.
“It would be a shame to lose our A-status during the Aquino Administration, just when we’re all optimistic about a rights-focused government,” Quisumbing said.
An A-status means that the institution meets all the criteria set out in Paris Principles. It gives the CHR the right to make statements at the Human Rights Council, to make reports and statements to U.N. Committees that monitor compliance with each human rights convention, among others.
The rating of commissions and institutions for human rights are determined by the ICC.
Former Bayan Muna representative and Makabayan president Satur Ocampo said Rosales is closely identified with Aquino. He said that Rosales’s Akbayan party played a role in Aquino’s campaign during the elections and was even part of the Liberal Party.
“Impartiality is the key in selecting the next CHR chair,” Ocampo said in a press conference, July 15.
Bayan Muna Rep, Teddy Casino said Rosales will not be an effective chair of the CHR. “She has been involved in many conflicts within the human rights community,” Casino said.
As then chairperson of the House Committee on Human Rights, Rosales showed clear ideological bias against members of the mainstream Left. “The primary victims of extrajudicial killings are from the mainstream Left, how would Etta handle this?” Casino said.
Karapatan, the premier human rights group in the country, has opposed Rosales’s appointment. “Ms. Rosales will not be objective in handling human rights violations cases,” Marie Hilao-Enriquez, Karapatan secretary general, said, “and will not have sympathy for victims of human rights violations and their relatives. Her dismal performance as Chairperson of the Committee for Human Rights at the House of Representatives was marked with prejudice against victims affiliated with our groups and network. It will taint, if not diminish, the independence of the Commission.” (Bulatlat.com)