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Human Rights Council Elections: Philippines’s record must

May. 17, 2007

A Statement by the Asian Legal Resource Centre

PHILIPPINES: Human Rights Council Elections: Philippines’ record must
preclude the country from the Council

The Philippines has presented its candidacy for re-election to the
United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council (HRC). The General Assembly
(GA) meets on May 17, 2007, to elect 14 of the Council’s 47 seats,
four of which are from the Asian region. Bahrain, India, Indonesia,
and the Philippines are coming to the end of their one-year terms on
the Council. India, Indonesia and the Philippines are vying for
re-election, while the Asian group is also proposing Qatar to replace
Bahrain.

The ALRC is gravely concerned by the fact that the Asian group,
amongst others, is presenting a clean slate of candidates, meaning
that it is proposing the same number of candidates as there are seats
available. The ALRC has released a statement, which can be found here
http://www.alrc.net/doc/mainfile.php/alrc_statements/414/, which
describes in detail the reasons for which the use of clean slates is
a serious threat to the credibility and functioning of the Council.
The HRC was created to replace the discredited Commission on Human
Rights in part because the Commission’s membership included States
that were on the body in order to shield themselves from criticism
concerning the gross human rights violations that they were
perpetrating. The HRC’s systems, notably the election process, have
been designed in order to ensure that this problem would be
minimised, as the evaluation of candidates’ rights records would have
an impact on whether they were successful in the elections. The use of
clean slates attempts to negate these safeguards and opens the door to
gross violators becoming members of the HRC.

According to GA resolution 60/251 establishing the HRC, members are
expected to uphold “the highest standards in the protection and
promotion of human rights and fully cooperate with the Council.” The
ongoing politically motivated extra-judicial killings in the
Philippines are a clear indicator of the level of promotion and
protection of rights in the country. The ALRC and its
sister-organisation, the Asian Human Rights Commission, have
documented 49 such killings since the Philippines were elected to the
HRC on May 9, 2006, and do not claim that this is an exhaustive list.

Local NGOs report that the number of killings since 2001 may today be
as high as 858. 198 forced disappearances have also been reported
during the same period. The HRC’s Special Rapporteur on
extra-judicial killings, Philip Alston, has stated that the military
are responsible for the majority of the killings. Numerous States
have voiced concerns regarding these killings and disappearances.
Many of the targets of these targeted killings are human rights
defenders. During the 4th session of the HRC in March this year, the
crisis in the Philippines attracted the attention of the Council,
which must now show that it can be responsive in such situations. The
ALRC doubts that the country’s record can under any circumstances be
considered as attaining “the highest standards of protection and
promotion of human rights.”

The killings do not occur in a vacuum and are not the country’s sole
problem, but are in fact a very visible and extreme symptom of a much
deeper breakdown of governance, justice and human rights in the
country. Many of those being killed are political activists, human
rights defenders, priests, journalists or lawyers, who are working in
favour of the poor and disenfranchised. Underlying social and economic
discrimination and injustices on a large scale are giving rise to
movements and actions by individuals, that are in turn then being
suppressed and killed. Despite claims by representatives of the
Philippines to the HRC – and in the latest voluntary pledge made as
part of the country’s election bid – that the government is making
great efforts to address these killings, in reality there are
practically no credible investigations, prosecutions or witness
protection, which results in near-guaranteed impunity for
perpetrators of even the gravest abuses. The range of bodies that
have been created, allegedly to address this situation have thus far
proven to be smoke screens rather being than of any actual
consequence for the victims or their families.

Mid-term elections have just been concluded in the Philippines, in
which the police have stated that as many as 114 persons have died,
including 59 candidates, and some 132 persons have been wounded.
Deputy Director of Police, General Avelino Razon Jr., has claimed
that the elections were “generally peaceful” and hopes “this
continues until the canvassing. General Razon was until recently the
head of Task Force Usig, the special unit set up within the police to
investigate the extra-judicial killings, and which has proven to be
highly ineffective. Given this, his lack of sensitivity concerning
these deaths is highly revealing. Even though the number of deaths is
lower in these elections than had been the case in the Presidential
elections in 2004, these comments show the extent to which the lives
of Filipinos are valued by the police and authorities in the
Philippines. They stand in stark contrast with the claims made in
point 4 of the country’s voluntary election pledge (which can be
found here: http://www.un.org/ga/61/elect/hrc/) in which the
authorities claim to exhibit a “firm commitment to the value and
sanctity of human life.”

The fact that the country is even vying for re-election is in itself
an attack on the integrity of the HRC. Given that Asia is proposing a
clean slate for these elections, it must be feared that the
Philippines will be re-elected. In its pledge, the country claims
that it “condemns extrajudicial killings in the strongest terms and,
in cooperation with the international and national human rights
community, shall continue to strongly address the issue.” Any failure
to live up to this pledge should be considered as a serious failure.
The ALRC recalls that, according to GA resolution 60/251, the General
Assembly, “by a two-thirds majority of the members present and voting,
may suspend the rights of membership in the Council of a member of the
Council that commits gross and systematic violations of human rights.”

The members of the General Assembly are strongly urged to circumvent
the clean slate tactic and, based on the existing irrefutable
evidence of grave rights abuses, cast blank ballots when asked to
vote concerning the Philippines’ candidacy. States are also urged to
make use of the option to cast write-in votes for other members of
the General Assembly from the Asian region that are evaluated as
having records that better match the sought standards for members of
the HRC.

# # #

About ALRC: The Asian Legal Resource Centre is an independent
regional non-governmental organisation holding general consultative
status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations. It
is the sister organisation of the Asian Human Rights Commission. The
Hong Kong-based group seeks to strengthen and encourage positive
action on legal and human rights issues at local and national levels
throughout Asia.

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