Last week, three United Nations independent experts – the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions; the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders; and the Special Rapporteur on the sale and sexual exploitation of children – made an urgent appeal to the government of the Philippines concerning grave human rights violations, including murder; threats against human rights defenders including those advocating for indigenous peoples’ rights; and the summary execution of children. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts] Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016, a violent “war on drugs,” spearheaded by the government of the Philippines continues to undermine the respect for human rights. See HRW, World Report: Philippines (2017). According to Human Rights Watch (HRW), the drug war has led to the killing of more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers, the overcrowding of jails, and the targeting of critics of the drug war, without any meaningful investigation into these incidents. See HRW, Philippines. The High Commissioner of Human Rights said last year that the war on drugs has created an atmosphere of violence and impunity. [OHCHR Press Release: Zeid] The UN independent experts recommend that the Philippines investigate all instances of violence, eliminate impunity, and hold perpetrators accountable for their actions. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts] The Philippines is a State party to several human rights treaties, including the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and it is obligated to uphold the rights to life; prohibition of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment; and liberty, among others.
Statement from UN Experts
The three independent experts who recently expressed their concern noted in particular the killings of and violence directed at not only human rights defenders and indigenous persons, but also trade union organizers and farmers. Additionally, they expressed concern about the increased extrajudicial killings of children. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts]
Some individuals who were the subjects of attacks, the experts noted, were defending the rights of Lumad indigenous peoples. Those defending the Lumad peoples have received severe threats, which the security forces have allowed or supported. In late July, Duterte threatened to bomb Lumad schools, claiming the rebels are in control of the schools. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts] [Guardian]
The experts recommended that the government of the Philippines pursue investigations of alleged human rights abuses; ensure the protection of human rights against extrajudicial executions and other forms of violence; prevent the incitement of violence against indigenous communities, farmers, and human rights defenders; and increase accountability for these illegal acts. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts]
Current Situation & Background
Duterte’s drug war has resulted in extrajudicial killings; the targeting and harassment of certain groups of people, such as human rights defenders; impunity for various human rights abuses, including rights violations against indigenous people and children; and poor prison conditions. Duterte has celebrated the extrajudicial killing of alleged drug dealers and users, and human rights groups have connected his “drug war” to increased killings by police and unidentified gunmen. See HRW, World Report: Philippines (2017). HRW reported that the government’s claims that the deaths were lawful was unfounded, and that in fact, police have routinely planted drug related evidence after a killing takes place. [HRW]
Indigenous Peoples & Human Rights Defenders
Indigenous peoples and those who defend their rights have been the subject of killings, intimidation, displacement, and environmental degradation. In March 2016, in Kidapawan City, approximately 6,000 indigenous peoples, farmers, and supporters protested calling for food aid and other assistance; police responded violently, including by shooting live ammunition, which killed two protestors. See HRW, World Report: Philippines (2017). In a report from earlier this year compiled by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, the Special Rapporteur on the right to food stated that the displacement of indigenous peoples and the loss of ancestral land threatens indigenous peoples’ survival as they depend on the land for food. See UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Compilation on the Philippines, UN Doc. A/HRC/WG.6/27/PHL/2, 27 February 2017, para. 90.
Other human rights defenders and those critical of the media have been subjected to threats and surveillance. [HRW] See Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Compilation on the Philippines, para. 40. Agnes Callamard, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, was among those targeted, according to Human Rights Watch. [HRW]
Children, as the UN independent experts noted, have been subjected to human rights abuses. While the independent experts in their recent statement indicated that they have received reports of extrajudicial killings of children, the UN Committee Against Torture has commented earlier this year that warrantless arrests of citizens has included arrests of children. [OHCHR Press Release: Experts] See Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Compilation on the Philippines, para. 31. Human Rights Watch has also reported incidents of arbitrary detention of children in the past. See HRW, World Report: Philippines (2017). Additionally, children are subject to trafficking and child labor, which continue in part due to the complicity of State officials. See Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Compilation on the Philippines, paras. 37, 42, 48.
Duterte’s campaign has also caused problems in Philippine jails, including, overcrowding, food shortages, and unsanitary conditions. [HRW] The UN country team reported earlier this year that overcrowding has gotten worse and confirmed that the provision of health care, food, and water are not adequate. See Report of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Compilation on the Philippines, para. 26. According to government data, jail facilities intended to contain a maximum of 20,399 people, currently hold close to 132,000 detainees. [HRW]
Philippines’ Human Rights Obligations
The Philippines has ratified the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination; the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which protects the rights to life, prohibition of inhuman or degrading treatment, liberty, and due process under articles 6, 7, 9, and 14, respectively, and its Optional Protocols; the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol; the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment and its Optional Protocol; the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols to the Convention on the Rights of the Child on the involvement of children in armed conflict and on the sale of children, child prostitution and child pornography; the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families; and the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Philippines must submit State reports to each United Nations committee tasked with monitoring the implementation of each of the above treaties. The Philippines has taken the necessary steps to allow individuals to submit complaints against the Philippines to the Human Rights Committee, the treaty body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the ICCPR, and to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, the treaty body tasked with monitoring the implementation of the CEDAW. The Philippines is also subject to the oversight of the UN Human Rights Council and its Universal Periodic Review, and thematic special procedures. Earlier this year, the Philippines and other stakeholders submitted reports on the State’s human rights situation for review under the UPR process. The Philippines has not extended a standing invitation to United Nations special procedures, which means that special rapporteurs and working groups must seek specific invitations from the Philippines to conduct a visit within the State.
The Philippines is also a Member State of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a regional intergovernmental organization, and was one of the States that adopted the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration.
Previously, in December 2016, the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, was unable to carry out a country visit to the Philippines due to conditions imposed by the government of the Philippines on the visit that would, “contravene both the spirit and the letter of the code of conduct, and are not in line with the working methods of the Special Procedures.” [OHCHR Press Release: Country Visit]