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PHL human rights condition ‘of serious concern’ to 39 countries

Iceland and 38 other countries on Thursday urged the Philippine government to end the thousands of killings closely related to the war on drugs.

The 39 countries, including the United States, Canada and Iceland itself, expressed "serious concern" over the human rights situation in the Philippines.

The statement came after the Philippine government rejected 154 of 257 recommendations from UN member states to address the state of human rights in the country.

In a joint statement delivered at a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Iceland Representative to UN Högni Kristjánsson stated "serious concern" over the Philippine government's "climate of impunity," but noted government commitments to conduct investigations into the killings.

"We remain particularly concerned about the thousands of killings and climate of impunity associated with the war on drugs, and note the government’s recent stated commitments to observe due process in investigating these crimes," said Kristjánsson in the statement.

The 39 signatories to the statement urged the Philippine government not only to put an end to the killings but also to cooperate with the international community in pursuing appropriate actions.

"We urge the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to bring these killings to an end and to cooperate with the international community to pursue appropriate investigations into these incidents, in keeping with universal principles of democratic accountability and the rule of law," the statement said.

The statement came after the Philippine government "noted," instead of fully approved, recommendations from the UNHRC referring to the extrajudicial killings allegedly stemming from the government's war on drugs. Philippine permanent representative to the UN Evan P. Garcia said the Philippines has "sufficiently" explained that these killings are "not extrajudicial killings."

The statement further said the 39 signing countries "share the concerns of the High Commissioner for Human Rights regarding the intimidations against human rights defenders" and urged the government to protect indigenous communities, journalists and human rights defenders.

The signatories of the joint statement continued to hold the Philippine government to the UN standard of cooperation and the promotion and protection of human rights.

Cooperation, for the 39 countries, includes "welcoming a visit from the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, without preconditions or limitations."

President Rodrigo Duterte is notorious for his apparent aversion to UN envoys and critics of the war on drugs and of the state of human rights in the Philippines.

He has, in particular, hurled invectives-filled tirades at Dr. Agnes Callamard, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, who has been vocally critical of Duterte's war on drugs.

The full list of the signatories is here:

1. Australia
2. Austria
3. Belgium
4. Bulgaria
5. Canada
6. Croatia
7. Cyprus
8. Czech Republic
9. Denmark
10. Estonia
11. Finland
12. France
13. Georgia
14. Germany
15. Greece
16. Iceland
17. Ireland
18. Italy
19. Latvia
20. Liechtenstein
21. Lithuania
22. Luxembourg
23. Macedonia
24. Malta
25. Moldova
26. Montenegro
27. Norway
28. Poland
29. Portugal
30. Romania
31. Slovakia
32. Slovenia
33. Spain
34. Sweden
35. Switzerland
36. The Netherlands
37. United Kingdom
38. Ukraine
39. United States

PHL envoys take offense

Ambassadors of the Philippine Mission to the United Nations in Geneva took offense and hit back at European countries that criticized the human rights situation in the Philippines.

"We take grave exception to the sweeping and politicized statement delivered by Iceland on behalf of a group of States," the group said during the general debate at the 36th Session of the Human Rights Council last Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Philippine Permanent Representative Evan Garcia and Philippine Deputy Permanent Representative Maria Teresa Almojuela denied that there was a culture of impunity in the Philippines.

"We have internal mechanisms to investigate all law enforcement operations that lead to deaths," Almojuela said.

Garcia also lamented other countries' inability to grasp the threats posed by illegal drugs.

"It is very regrettable that some still do not grasp the full import of the deadly connections between illegal narcotics and terrorism, and of the threat that narco-politics poses to our national security and the very fabric of our society," he said.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano had earlier said the criticism was "based on biased and questionable information and failed to appreciate Manila's willingness to work with the international community on human rights issues."

"It is very unfortunate that instead of engaging us constructively, some western countries would rather criticize and impose conditions as if they can do a better job than the Philippine Government in protecting the Filipino people," he said.

Human rights groups

Local human rights advocates, for their part, welcomed the joint statement delivered by Iceland.

Ellecer Carlos of the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) and In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) was quoted by Asian human rights group FORUM-ASIA as saying, “We appreciate the international solidarity against the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines, especially at a time when human rights defenders are vilified and threatened for the work that we do.”

"Urgent action is needed as the ‘war on drugs’ has been compounded with threats to freedom of expression and political freedoms,” Carlos added.

As welcome as statements like these are, however, only the "first steps" to "pressure" the Philippine government to honor its international commitments.

If nothing changes, UNHCR must conduct an investigation of its own, said John Samuel, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, in a statement.

"If the situation in the country does not improve, the UN Human Rights Council must pass a resolution at its next session in March, establishing an international, independent investigation into killings associated with the ‘war on drugs'," said Samuel.

The Human Rights Watch also backed the call of the 39 states and noted "the growing chorus of voices" condemning the thousands of killings in the Philippines brought about by Duterte's campaign against illegal drugs. —Nicole-Anne C. Lagrimas/KG/AT, GMA News