30 June 2020
As requested by resolution 41/2, I turn now to our report on the human rights situation in the Philippines.
Let me begin by thanking the Government for its cooperation, including written submissions and several meetings with my office in Bangkok and Geneva. Much of the material in the report is drawn from these official sources. We also received hundreds of submissions from organizations and individuals across the Philippines. However, my team was not granted access to the country in relation to this mandate.
The findings of the report are very serious. Laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights. They have resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detentions and the vilification of those who challenge these severe human rights violations.
The report finds that more than 248 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists were killed between 2015 and 2019. This includes a large number of environmental and indigenous peoples’ rights defenders. Human rights defenders are routinely smeared as terrorists, enemies of the State and even viruses akin to COVID-19.
The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism.
The law could have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities. So I would urge the President to refrain from signing the law, and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism – but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy. My Office is ready to assist in such a review.
The report also finds that serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, have resulted from key policies driving the so-called “war on drugs,” and incitement to violence from the highest levels of Government. The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing.
We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the State to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice.
Moreover, by senior Government officials’ own admission, the draconian campaign has been ineffective in reducing the supply of illicit drugs.
While the Philippines has made some progress in the advancement of economic and social rights, indigenous peoples and farmers continue to be caught in a tug of war between powerful businesses and political interests, the army, and non-State armed groups like the New People’s Army, who are also responsible for abuses. Despite progressive legislation, the rights of indigenous peoples, the right to education and other basic economic and social rights remain elusive for many remote communities.
The Philippines has been actively engaged with many UN human rights mechanisms over the years, and this report has built upon many of their recommendations. A Senior Human Rights Advisor has also been supporting the UN Country Team since 2014.
Our Office is ready to strengthen our constructive engagement on the basis of the report’s recommendations. We have identified several areas for further cooperation with the Government, including strengthening domestic accountability mechanisms; improving data gathering on alleged police violations; review of legislation and policies on drug control and terrorism; and help to bridge gaps between civil society and State authorities.
I urge the Council to remain active and vigilant on the situation in the Philippines, by mandating my Office to continue monitoring and reporting, as well as through support for technical cooperation to implement the report’s recommendations. The State has an obligation to conduct independent investigations into the grave violations we have documented. In the absence of clear and measurable outcomes from domestic mechanisms, the Council should consider options for international accountability measures.
I hope the report will mark the beginning of the end of impunity for serious human rights violations in the Philippines. The families of victims, and the country’s courageous human rights defenders, count on the international community for help to address these ongoing and serious human rights issues – and for the Council to rise up to its prevention mandate.
It is not enough to argue that the Government’s heavy-handed policies remain popular in the country. Because victims tend to be from lower socio-economic classes and relatively disempowered communities, there is an even stronger imperative to ensure their protection. We must not let them down. Political leadership is about respecting, promoting and protecting the rights of everyone in society, in particular the most vulnerable, so as to leave no one behind.
Thank you Madam President.