UN rapporteur hit, lauded for call to end attacks vs rights defenders

MALACAÑANG on Thursday, December 20, criticized while opposition lawmakers lauded an independent expert of the United Nations (UN) for asking the Duterte government to stop attacking human rights advocates in the Philippines.

Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said the current administration was already "fed up" with some UN special rapporteurs's practice of using the international human rights body "as a platform to parrot baseless criticisms of local interest groups who are supported by resentful politicians belonging to the opposition."

Panelo made the statement after Michel Forst, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, urged the Philippine government to end immediately all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including forced disappearances.

The Palace official branded Forst's call as "reckless" and "irresponsible."

"The recent call of United Nations Special Rapporteur Michel Forst not only is reckless but irresponsible as well for it not only demeans the integrity of the UN [special rapporteurs] system but the entire UN mechanism itself," Panelo said in a statement.

"For too long has the UN been used by these detractors as a tool for vilification. UNSRs should be less gullible as this reinforces the President’s contempt for them who have consistently manifested bias against the Philippines," he added.

Opposition members of the House of Representatives, on the other hand, lauded Forst for making the call.

"We laud the Special Rapporteur for making this bold message asking the government to immediately end all forms of violations against human rights defenders, including extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances and we hope that the Duterte administration would indeed stop the attacks on human rights defenders,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate in a statement.

Akbayan Rep. Tom Villarin, for his part, said the global survey on human rights situation by Forst is a “silver lining in these situations of massive rights abuses.”

He said the report lays the predicate why an ICC investigation “should immediately commence and not wait for more dead bodies to further pile up.”

"The report is timely and encouraging for the kin of victims of extrajudicial killings and human rights groups who are lumped as 'enemies of the state' and being drug protectors,” he added.

Forst, in a report on the situations of human rights defenders in 140 nations released Wednesday, December 19, took note of instances of human rights violations, including efforts to defame human rights advocates critical of the Duterte government.

Forst emphasized specific concerns on the situation of human rights defenders in the Philippines, citing data from several organizations, including human rights group Karapatan which reported 697 killings since 2001, including 84 under the Duterte government.

The report stated that the “government’s war on drugs has created a climate of insecurity and impunity for extrajudicial killings that affect human rights defenders.”

It also stated that “Duterte has fostered very harmful rhetoric against human rights defenders labeling them ‘anti-nation’, ‘protectors of drug lords’, ‘communsts’, ’terrorists’ and others.”

Panelo shrugged off Forst's appeal, saying that the latter should have verified first the information hurled against the present administration.

"If Mr. Forst only checked his facts first, he would have known that organizations presenting themselves as so-called human rights defenders never had it so good under the Duterte administration," he said.

"They continue to fully exercise all their rights to air issues and concerns related to their advocacies in an environment that is free and secure from any threat or harassment," he added.

Panelo then challenged the local groups "reeding Mr. Forst with false information" to submit their alleged cases of violations against their members to proper authorities like an inter-agency committee tasked to handle cases of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances and other grave violations of the right to life and liberty.

"Unless they can properly do so, we stand by our firm admonition of these groups to refrain from making a fool of these UN [special rapporteurs], a mockery of the UN, as well as using their allegations as leverage to secure financial resources from overtrusting funding institutions," he said.

Panelo also stressed that the Philippines, being a UN member-state and a member of the UN Human Rights Council, bolsters the government's position that "respect for human rights and its advocates is being upheld by this administration." (SunStar Philippines)


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