The National Council of Churches in the Philippines (NCCP) has expressed disappointment in the inadequacy of a recent resolution by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) concerning human rights in the Philippines.
Nevertheless, in a statement on 8 October the NCCP expressed its determination to “maximize any venue opened by this resolution that can advance the pursuit of justice for the victims and survivors of human rights violations.
“The UNHRC resolution on technical cooperation and capacity building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Philippines falls short of our expectation,” the statement reads. “Truth be told, it does not mirror the findings and recommendations in the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. This is most apparent in that it does not answer our fervent call for an independent international investigation.”
Since President Duterte launched his ’war on drugs’, soon after coming to power in 2016, thousands of people have lost their lives through increasingly violent law enforcement measures which have included extra-judicial and arbitrary executions. According to WCC Director for International Affairs Peter Prove, “Civil society activists who speak out against this situation are labelled terrorists or communists, and face harassment, threats, and in some cases – death. Indigenous communities have been particularly targeted, and even the churches have not been spared. The NCCP is one of many organizations which have been ‘red-tagged’ and subjected to such harassment.”
One year ago, the Human Rights Council mandated the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to investigate the situation. Her report described a dire situation and reported that, even taking the most conservative estimates based on government data, over 8,500 people had been killed. Other estimates suggest the real number is triple that figure.
The High Commissioner’s report called on the Human Rights Council to mandate her office to ensure ongoing monitoring and reporting, and the World Council of Churches joined calls by the NCCP and other partners for an independent international mechanism to follow up on the report. During the 45th session of the Human Rights Council, the WCC delivered two statements about the situation in the Philippines – drawing attention to the human rights violations being suffered by indigenous communities, and expressing grief over the recent killing of human rights defender, church worker, and mother, Zara Alvarez.
However, as Director Prove explains, “there was insufficient political support for a resolution to hold the Philippines government to account. Member States of the Human Rights Council chose not to condemn the human rights violations happening within the borders of a country which generally lives in peace with other members of the international community.”
Instead, a resolution was adopted merely mandating the High Commissioner’s office to provide “technical cooperation” and “capacity building” to support government efforts to improve human rights. But as Philippines Human Rights Commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit has pointed out, “No amount of technical assistance and capacity building can improve the situation on the ground if there is no change in policy. There has to be marked improvement on the ground with domestic accountability mechanisms.”