Support at UN Human Rights Council Crucial to Establish International

31 August 2020

Claudio Francavilla, EU Advocacy Officer

Human Rights Watch –

EU Member States Should Act on Philippines Abuses

Last year, European Union member states at the United Nations Human
Rights Council voted decisively in support of a resolution mandating the
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to report on grave rights abuses
in the Philippines.

The report, presented in June, documented “widespread and systematic”
extrajudicial killings, resulting in tens of thousands of deaths, crimes
committed in a climate of near total impunity; the murder of at least
208 human rights defenders between 2015 and 2019, and frequent threats
and intimidation, police raids, arbitrary arrests, prosecutions, and
shutdowns of civil society groups and media outlets.

The findings were unsurprising, confirming what has been previously
documented by rights groups, including Human Rights Watch, and UN
special experts. What has been surprising is the Human Rights Council’s
reluctance to act on repeated calls for an independent international
investigation into the extrajudicial killings and other abuses committed
since 2016.

In a letter sent on August 27, 62 nongovernmental organizations,
including Human Rights Watch, reiterated their call for an independent
international investigative mechanism on crimes committed in the
Philippines. The groups also cautioned against giving credence to
Manila’s recent creation of a panel to review more than 5,600 cases of
alleged extrajudicial killings in the country, as the panel includes the
very agencies implicated in the abuses.

While the EU has repeatedly expressed concerns over serious abuses by
President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, it has not taken concrete
action beyond the June 2019 vote. The Philippines benefit from the EU’s
GSP+ scheme, which grants preferential access to the EU market
conditional on the ratification and implementation of 27 international
human rights, labor, and environmental treaties. Despite noting major
backsliding in the country’s human rights record, the EU has so far
refused to trigger the mechanisms that could lead to the suspension of
the trade benefits.

The EU’s and member states’ support at the Human Rights Council will be
necessary to advance prospects for justice in the Philippines. Setting
up the mechanism would increase pressure on the Duterte administration
to stop the abuses and cooperate meaningfully with the international
community. And if the Philippine government fails to do so, it could
eventually lead to the Philippines having its EU trade benefits
suspended, as Cambodia’s abusive prime minister, Hun Sen, knows very well.