Activist countries

Countries urge Marcos government to resolve human rights crisis left by Duterte

GENEVA, Switzerland – Several countries have called on the Marcos administration to address the violations and problems left behind by former President Rodrigo Duterte’s culture of impunity.

These recommendations were made by member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UN HRC) during the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) of the Philippines on Monday, November 14.

The UPR is a process by which the UN HRC assesses a country’s human rights record. The Philippines last underwent this process in 2017, barely a year after the start of the Duterte administration.

At least 11 member states have urged the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. to tackle the extrajudicial executions that occurred during Duterte’s war on drugs, specifically ensuring justice for victims killed since 2016.

Estonia, for example, called on the Philippine government not only to hold perpetrators to account, but also to ensure remedies and reparations for victims and their families. Cuba, meanwhile, has urged the state to focus its illegal drug control efforts on prevention, education and rehabilitation – a leap from the previous administration’s approach.

Government data shows that at least 6,252 people were killed in police anti-drug operations between July 2016 and May 31, 2022. This number does not include those killed in vigilante fashion, which human rights groups estimate between 27,000 and 30,000.

So far, only one incident has led to a conviction: the case of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos. In October, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla vowed “real justice in real time,” but there has still been no significant development in the much-vaunted Drug War Review Panel initiated by the Department of Justice in June 2020.

Brazil, for its part, said the Philippine government should adopt additional measures to conduct “prompt, impartial and thorough” investigations by strengthening the Drug War Review Committee.

Austria, Cyprus, Estonia, France and Ireland have also called on the Marcos administration to join the International Criminal Court (ICC), years after the Duterte government withdrew from the Rome Statute in response to ongoing proceedings against its violent war on drugs.

Protect journalists, human rights defenders

In addition to the war on drugs, UN HRC member states have also highlighted the situation of journalists and human rights defenders in the Philippines – sectors that have been heavily affected by the policies and the vitriol of the former president.

At least 27 countries have urged the Marcos government to protect members of civil society by advancing legislation and measures, including the long-awaited law on the protection of human rights defenders, the ratification of the Convention for the protection of all persons from enforced disappearance, the amendment of the Anti-Terrorism Act and the decriminalization of defamation in the Philippines.

“We however remain deeply concerned about the intimidation and harassment of civil society activists with the widespread and serious violations of human rights,” Austria said.

Rights group Karapatan has documented 427 incidents of killings and at least 537 recorded incidents of frustrated killings between July 2016 and December 2021. Meanwhile, at least 1,161 activists have been arrested and detained over the past six years. Red-tagging activists and journalists remains a huge problem in the Philippines.

Will the UN give Marcos a clean slate on human rights?

Fix Duterte’s Mess

The UPR stepped in as the Marcos administration came under close scrutiny to resolve the human rights crisis left behind by Duterte, as well as the pending International Criminal Court (ICC) decision to greenlight the Prosecutor Karim Khan’s investigation into the Drug War killings.

Speaking before the council, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin “Boying” Remulla said the Marcos government is focusing on four pillars of the Philippine human rights agenda: transformational reform of the justice sectors and of law enforcement, investment in rights, protection of vulnerable groups and a constructive approach and open dialogue with the international community.

“We will dispel the misconception that there is a culture of impunity in our country,” he said. “We will not tolerate any denial of justice or violation of human rights.”

Filipino human rights groups have warned, however, that the promises of the Marcos administration may remain only rhetoric. They have previously called on the UN HRC to see beyond the government’s “diplomatic charm offensive” and focus on still-deficient justice and accountability in the country.

“These are lies meant to distract from the fact that there are no accountability measures and that extrajudicial killings continue without prosecution so far,” said Rose Trajano of the Human Rights Movement. of man and dignity.

Aurora Parong, a national executive member of the Philippine Human Rights Defenders Alliance (PAHRA), has hit out at the Marcos government for covering up the violations.

“The governance of the Marcos government based on human rights is just a show, it’s just a joke,” she said. –