U.N. experts call for probe into human rights violations in the Philippines

MANILA, Philippines (UPDATED) – United Nations human rights experts on Friday, June 7, called on the intergovernmental organization to conduct an independent investigation into human rights violations in the Philippines.

"Given the scale and seriousness of the reported human rights violations we call on the Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into the human rights violations in the Philippines," read a statement from 11 independent experts, among them UN special rapporteurs Agnes Callamard and Victoria Lucia Tauli Corpuz.

Callamard is a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, while Corpuz was initially one of those whom the Philippines’ justice department wanted to declare as terrorists under the Human Security Act. Her name has since been taken out of the list.

The Human Rights Council is a body made up of 47 UN member-states elected by the UN General Assembly.

The experts said they have recorded a "staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings" in the context of Duterte’s so-called drug war, as well as "killings of human rights defenders."

"Very few independent and effective investigations have taken place, independent media and journalists are threatened, the law has been weaponized to undermine press freedom, and the independence of the judiciary is undermined," the experts added.

The experts expressed extreme concern over the "high number of killings" in the Philippines. They also noted that in the last 3 years, they have repeatedly brought to the government’s attention "cases alleging a range of gross human rights violations."

According to the statement, independent human rights experts have raised their concerns with the Philippine government on 33 occasions from June 2016 to December 2018.

"It is time for the Human Rights Council to take action against these sustained attacks on human rights defenders and independent watchdog institutions," the experts said in the statement.

They pointed out that the alleged perpetrators in many of the killings in the country "are members of the armed forces, paramilitary groups or individuals linked to them."

"Instead of sending a strong message that these killings and harassment are unacceptable, there is a rising rhetoric against independent voices in the country and ongoing intimidation and attacks against voices who are critical of the Government, including independent media, human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists," they added.

The statement said the Philippine President himself has publicly intimidated human rights defenders, UN special rapporteurs, and "even the Supreme Court judges," referring to former SC chief justice Maria Lourdes Sereno.

The statement also noted how Duterte has "publicly degraded women through sexist statements" and "incited violence against drug pushers and others."

"The Government has shown no indication that they will step up to fulfill their obligation to conduct prompt and full investigations into these cases, and to hold perpetrators accountable in order to do justice for victims and to prevent reoccurrence of violations," the experts said. 

Aside from the call for the UN to investigate human rights violations in the Philippines, the experts were also concerned about the President’s decision to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.

"This is the last of many actions demonstrating that the Government is seeking to evade scrutiny and reject accountability," they said in the statement.

Laila Matar, deputy director of Human Rights Watch, said "a probe into extrajudicial killings and other violations in the Philippines is long overdue." 

In a statement Friday, she said: "This collective expression of concern and call to action by 11 top UN experts only further highlights the responsibility of the Human Rights Council to address the situation in the Philippines. At the March session of the Council this year, High Commissioner Bachelet made strong remarks on the Philippines, noting estimates of up to 27,000 extrajudicial killings, and noting that only one case had been subject to investigation and prosecution. Over the past two years, three joint statements by States at the HRC have expressed concern over the situation in the country. The killings in the Philippines are ongoing, and President Duterte himself has vowed to continue the brutal campaign." – Jee Y. Geronimo/Rappler.com