MANILA – The United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council adopted on October 7 a resolution endorsing UN support for the Philippines’ efforts to further strengthen its human rights and accountability mechanisms.
The 47-member intergovernmental body adopted unanimously a decision that recognizes the Philippines’ domestic accountability institutions to address cases of human rights violations alleged by activists and interest groups.
It acknowledges the Philippines’ strong and open engagement with the UN, and promotes the provision of technical assistance from UN agencies and international partners in work areas on rule of law, justice, law enforcement, and accountability processes, at the invitation of the government and in accordance with national priorities.
The UN joint program on human rights, currently being finalized between the government and the UN Resident Coordinator, will anchor the Philippines’ engagement with the UN on human rights in the next four years.
The decision takes due note of the review process launched by the Philippine government, led by the Department of Justice, to review the actions taken on reported deaths arising from legitimate police operations to carry out the anti-illegal drug campaign.
The resolution was passed without a vote at the close of the 45th session of the Human Rights Council on 7 October 2020, notwithstanding calls from local and international activists for strong actions by the Council on the Philippines, including monitoring by the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the creation of an international investigation on alleged killings related to the government’s anti-drug campaign.
A total of 40 states put their names behind the resolution, as its co-sponsors, namely the Philippines, Iceland, Australia, Austria, Bahrain, Bulgaria, Cambodia, Canada, Denmark, Egypt, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Malaysia, Malta, Myanmar, Nepal, New Zealand, Norway, Peru, Poland, Portugal, Qatar, Republic of Korea, Sierra Leone, Slovenia, Somalia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, and Turkey. More countries are expected to register as co-sponsors until October 21, 2020.
The Council’s adoption of the resolution represents a significant reversal of a narrow and contentious decision reached in July 2019 that called for the High Commissioner to report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, on the basis of unverified and sweeping allegations on extra-judicial killings. That decision was adopted after contentious voting, with 18 yes votes, with the rest of the 47-member Council voting No or abstaining. The Philippines rejected the resolution, citing that it was an abuse of Council processes and it ignored facts and realities on the ground.
Ambassador Evan P. Garcia, Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, speaking during the adoption proceedings on Oct. 7, said the “constructive approach and a positive way forward” of the resolution, which the Philippines pursued with Iceland, "signifies unifying outcomes that arise when states recognize their common interest in promoting positive models of engagement in the Council that respect the principles of objectivity and non-interference and uphold the primary role of States as duty-bearers."
The joint initiative of the Philippines and Iceland has the support of many states that sponsored the hostile action on the Philippines in July 2019, on the intense lobbying of local and international activists who have largely failed to substantiate the allegations they raised in the Council against the Philippines. Groups like Amnesty International which have pushed for investigations on the Philippines have expressed disappointment with the Council’s recent decision.
Garcia added that the 2020 resolution, which has the support of a cross-regional representation of states, “conveys a clear message of the Human Rights Council's resolve to take constructive approaches that lead to fruitful outcomes on the ground."
In his remarks, Garcia highlighted the Philippines' consistent advocacy for genuine dialogue, constructive engagement, and productive international cooperation on human rights, as affirmed by President Rodrigo R. Duterte in his virtual address at the UN General Assembly on 22 September 2020.
President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s remarks to the UN on human rights in September upheld the Philippines’ support for “ productive international cooperation on human rights” and “open and constructive cooperation” as “the way forward”.
The resolution recognizes "the cooperation between the Philippine Government and the UN country team, and notes the Government's efforts to further broaden positive engagement with the UN system through the UN Resident Coordinator."
It also requests the High Commissioner for Human Rights and her Office "to provide support for the country in the continued fulfillment of its international human rights obligations and commitments, taking into account the UN joint program on human rights."
Garcia updated the UN human rights body on the discussions between Philippine government agencies and the UN system on a number of projects to be supported under the UN Joint Program. These projects include those in the areas of strengthening investigative and accountability mechanisms, the establishment of a compliance monitoring system for the national police, and engagement with civil society.
He stressed the depoliticized approach of the technical cooperation on human rights between the Philippines and the UN system, noting that "the broad framework of the UN Joint Program anchors the activities of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in the Philippines so that it helps optimize synergies between human rights and development in the in-country work of the UN."
"The Philippines- UN Joint Program is in line with the country's long-standing tradition of openly engaging with international, regional, and multilateral partners on development, human rights, accountability, and the rule of law," he said. (PR)