International community looks at human rights situation in the Philippines

What’s the deal with … human rights in the Philippines? At the beginning of May, The UN human rights council analyses to what degree the Asian country respects its commitments. 23 social organizations published an alternative report. Their conclusion? There is a lot more going on in the Philippines than the recent crackdown on drug users.
The crackdown on drug users is used to discredit human rights activists

The Philippines are since the election of their new president Rodrigo Duterte at the center of many controversies. With his self-proclaimed war against drugs he had hundreds of people murdered and locked away without trial, often in overpopulated and unmaintained prisons. This illegal approach casts its shadow over other forms of human rights violations that have been going on longer, and that often lie at the base of the drug problems.

The Universal Periodic Review, UPR in short, is an evaluation method of the UN Human Rights Council and analyses every 5 years the human rights situation in a given country. At the table are the current member states of the council, including Belgium. This evaluation also offers the opportunity for social organizations to bring their own report to the attention of the UN. 23 social organizations, including some of our partners, are working together under the name UPR Watch. You can read their findings in the document linked below.

Every country that signed the Universal Declaration of Human Rights undergoes this process. For the Philippines, it is already the third time. In May the period between 2012 and September 2016 was analyzed. Only the last three months were under new president Duterte.

A history of inequality and suppression

The first observation of the social organizations is negative: the human rights situation has hardly changed the past five years, on some fronts it has even worsened.

Inequality in the Philippines is huge and growing. Only a limited number of people control the economy, which trough free trade agreements is dominated by foreign interests. The government barely invests in jobs and infrastructure such as health services, which in turn increases joblessness, poverty and immigration.

People already in a difficult situations are most vulnerable to violations of human rights. Indigenous populations, farmers without land, the urban poor, women and environmental and human rights activists are the biggest victims.

The violation of political rights should be seen in the context of this structural violation of economic, social and cultural rights such as the right to health and the right to food. More and more people are protesting, which leads the authorities to suppress protests.

Extrajudicial killings, meaning murders without trial, is not uncommon in the archipelago. Indigenous populations are very much targeted. The report speaks of at least 111 murders the last five years. Many more were subject to blackmailing, illegal incarceration and other forms of intimidation. Their crime? Rising against militarization, corruption and large scale mining and palm oil plantations who chase entire communities from their lands.

Additionally, more and more stories crop up about how Duterte’s war on drugs is misused to target social activists. In October 2016 a number of farmers were arrested on the false pretext that they were trading drugs. They are viewed as a threat by the authorities because they rose against the expropriation of their lands.

A bottom up report

Social organisations from the UPR watch listed 24 demands and attention points. They demand that the executions without trial stop immediately, for both drug users and activists. Civil rights of social organizations and their members should be respected, so that they can enforce their social, economic and cultural rights.

Read the report (9 pages)

Read the summary (2 pages)