JOINT PROGRAM FOR HUMAN RIGHTS. (From left) United Nations Philippines Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez, Secretary of Justice Menardo Guevarra, Secretary of Foreign Affairs Teodoro Locsin Jr. sign the UN Joint Programme on Human Rights at the Department of Foreign Affairs. Locsin said this signifies the country's commitment to partner with the UN in human rights promotion and protection. (Photo courtesy of UN Philippines)

MANILA – The Philippine government and the United Nations on Thursday formally launched the UN Joint Program (UNJP) on Human Rights.

In a joint statement issued on Thursday night, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. said this signifies the country's commitment to partner with the UN in human rights promotion and protection.

“The joint program embodies the partnership, trust-building, and constructive engagement between the Philippines and the UN on human rights promotion and protection. I commend all government agencies and the UN bodies involved for the tireless work in developing this program,“ he said.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, meanwhile, described the launch as a manifestation of Manila's "sincere efforts to infuse its law enforcement and investigative operations with a human rights dimension in a non-political setting".

The signing of this first-ever national joint program follows the adoption of Human Rights Council resolution 45/33 on October 7, 2020, which outlined specific areas for capacity-building and technical cooperation on human rights in the country.

The three-year initiative will allow the UN and the Philippines to engage in the following areas:

1. Strengthening domestic investigation and accountability mechanisms;
2. Data gathering on alleged police violations;
3. Civic space and engagement with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights (CHR);
4. National mechanism for reporting and follow-up;
5. Counter-terrorism legislation; and
6. Human rights-based approaches to drug control.

“Respect for human rights is fundamental to all of the UN’s work. This project is a commitment that we will keep taking action for human rights, in ways that have an impact, and where it is most needed. We can only do so by listening and partnering with a wide range of actors,” UN Philippines Resident Coordinator Gustavo Gonzalez said as he hailed the initiative as a "critical milestone" in the two parties' partnership.

Australia is the first country to provide financial support to the UNJP, with an initial contribution of PHP12.9 million.

It will be co-implemented by the Department of Justice, Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, Department of the Interior and Local Government, Philippine National Police, Dangerous Drugs Board, Department of Health, the Anti-Terrorism Council-Program Management Center, Bureau of Jail Management and Penology and CHR.

Civil Society Organizations, as well as the academe, will also be core partners.

Drawing on their best practices to apply human-rights based approaches, the Philippine government will work with various UN entities, including the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights; UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization; the UN Office of Counter-Terrorism; and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime.

The UNJP signing ceremony was held on July 22 at the DFA Office in Pasay City and was witnessed by some members of the diplomatic corps.

In a statement, the European Union Delegation in Manila welcomed Manila's commitment to protecting human rights, saying the UNJP is a "remarkable example of Philippines' interagency cooperation with the UN". (PNA)