Philippine team off to Geneva to defend ‘human rights situation’

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A PHILIPPINE team headed by its Justice chief will head to Geneva this month to discuss the country’s human rights situation before the United Nations Human Rights Council.

Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin C. Remulla in a statement on Thursday said he would talk about government reforms for the justice system, including law enforcement and human rights, with UN member states on Nov. 14 to 16. 

The universal periodic review is a UN mechanism to assess a country’s human rights situation. Member states are given the chance to review steps taken by a country to address human rights issues. 

“Our delegation looks forward to listening to the observations and any new recommendations that UN member states will put forward,” Mr. Remulla said.

The Philippine delegation will include officials from the Department of Justice (DoJ) and Department of Foreign Affairs.

In August, the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said it was consulting civic and grassroot groups on the UN mechanism.

Last month, the Justice chief told the Human Rights Council the government aims to change the culture of the justice system, which he said was prone to delays.

Mr. Remulla said the government would release about 5,000 inmates next year, as it tries to decongest the world’s most crowded jails. 

With 215,000 prisoners nationwide, Philippine jails and prisons are overfilled more than five times their official capacity, making them the most overcrowded prison system in the world, according to the World Prison Brief.

The Justice department also plans to increase the prosecution success rate by streamlining processes involving government prosecutors and law enforcement agencies. 

In a 13-page report dated Nov. 3, the UN Human Rights Committee said the Philippines should comply with international human rights mechanisms and cooperate with a potential probe of its deadly drug war by the International Criminal Court (ICC).

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights earlier said the government’s probe of human rights violations in connection with its anti-illegal drug campaign lacked transparency. 

Philippine Solicitor General Menardo I. Guevarra in September said the country would pursue all legal means to block an investigation by the ICC on the war on drugs and ensure suspects are tried by local courts.

The Hague-based tribunal, which prosecutes people charged with genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and aggression, suspended its probe of ex-President Rodrigo R. Duterte’s anti-illegal drug campaign upon the state’s request.

The CHR had said the Duterte government had encouraged a culture of impunity by hindering independent inquiries and failing to prosecute erring cops.

At least 6,117 suspected drugdealers had been killed in police operations, according to data released by the Philippine government in June last year. Human rights groups estimate that as many as 30,000 suspects died.

“The Philippines will engage constructively and openly based on the principles of sovereign equality, independence and dialogue,” Mr. Remulla said.

The Human Rights Council dealt victims of human rights violations in the Philippines a serious blow by failing to pass a resolution in October that would ensure continued scrutiny of the country’s rights situation, Human Rights Watch earlier said.

The council ended its 51st session in Geneva on Oct. 7 without taking action on the Philippines, despite dire expressions of concern from the UN human rights office, civic groups and families of victims of abuses, the global watchdog said. 

The 2020 Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines required the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to monitor and report on the Philippine rights situation through 2022.

A September report by the high commissioner’s office highlighted prevailing rights violations and recommended continued monitoring and reporting to the council. 

But council member states and donor countries that supported the 2020 resolution and the ensuing Philippine-UN Joint Program did not press for a 2022 resolution, Human Rights Watch said.

“The UN Human Rights Council’s failure to act on the Philippines is devastating for both the victims of human rights abuses and civil society groups that seek to uphold basic rights,” said Lucy McKernan, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch.

The watchdog in September told the UN council human rights violations in connection with the Philippines’ anti-illegal drug campaign continue under the Marcos government.

Continued UN scrutiny of the Philippines is important because drug war killings are still common and police impunity for rights violations remained the norm, it said. — John Victor D. Ordoñez