Cayetano crying ‘wolf!’ against UN Human Rights Council

UNHRC
Far-reaching friction between the UNHRC and States refusing UN investigations evident during the 38th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session. (Photo by Leon Dulce)

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By LEON DULCE
KALIBUTAN

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano has accused Iceland and the other states that jointly called for an investigation into the Duterte government’s drug war killings. In a statement at the ongoing 38th UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) session, he said they are “not actually interested in the truth.”

Cayetano claims that Iceland Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson and other countries he’d invited to “objectively assess the human rights situation” did not reciprocate.

These spats are part of a far-reaching friction between the UNHRC and various States refusing UN investigations. We witnessed it happening all throughout the Council’s sessions. We attended the UNHRC session as part of the Human Rights Defenders Program of the International Service for Human Rights (ISHR), a two-week intensive course. With 13 other human rights defenders working on a range of issues, we learned and engaged in the UN’s rights mechanisms.

Lon Dulce
The author is with environmental defenders and advocates from Botswana, Peru, and Myanmar, with their mentor from ISHR at the Plais des Nations.

We raised the worsening plight of environmental defenders in the Philippines. Even the international watchdog Global Witness recently declared that the Philippines is the second deadliest country for environmental defenders. We call attention to this in the face of a broader political crackdown by the Duterte government against critics, dissenters, and even against checks and balances in the government.

Valuable lessons fresh from International Service for Human Rights’ training have led me to the following facts:

1. The Philippines doesn’t invite any Special Procedures of UNHRC.

Special Rapporteurs are independent experts who can investigate human rights situation and give technical advice on how to improve it. But they can do it only when invited to do so by a country. The last invited by the Philippines was Chaloka Beyani, in 2016. The Special Rapporteur on Internally Displaced Persons investigated communities still reeling from typhoon disasters and armed conflict.

Since 2010, special rapporteurs have lodged 25 outstanding requests and reminders. Among them the Special Rapporteur on Environment. But the Duterte government continues to snub their requests for invitations.

2. The Duterte government rejected more than half of the recommendations of other countries for the Philippines in the UN Universal Periodic Review.

The Duterte government rejected recommendations on investigating extrajudicial killings (EJKs), stopping the re-imposition of the death penalty, and stopping the lowering of the age of criminal liability, among others.

Against these human rights atrocities, most States and not just the UNHRC members spoke out during the assessment and recommendation. The Duterte government responded with farfetched denials. It claims the deaths in its bloody war on drugs are not EJKs but deaths “arising from legitimate law enforcement operations” or requiring “further investigation.”

3. Though the Philippines has ratified the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights, more than a year after the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) made some legally binding ‘concluding observations’ in 2016, there is still no compliance on the part of the Philippine government.

The CESCR strongly recommended addressing the killings and rights violations that targeted human rights defenders, including farmers and indigenous peoples. Based on Kalikasan’s monitoring, from these sectors came eight in every 10 environment-related victims of killings under Duterte.

Cayetano is clearly the boy who cries ‘Wolf!’ at the UNHRC. It is ironic that the Philippine government still holds the vice presidency of the UN Human Rights Council’s Bureau despite its flagrant disregard of human rights. All the more reason for the UN Human Rights Council to begin an international investigation into the killings and human rights violations of the Duterte regime against the people.

Leon Dulce is the national coordinator of the Kalikasan People’s Network for the Environment, a national grassroots environmental campaign center in the Philippines. He attended the recently concluded Human Rights Defenders Advocacy Program, a two-week intensive training on UN human rights mechanisms by the International Service for Human Rights.

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