Philippines warned of diplomatic price if human rights not probed

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The Philippines could be in danger of losing its seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council

A human rights expert says Philippines must allow probe on drug war or risk losing its seat on the UN’s Human Rights Council.

John Fisher, Geneva director of Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the Philippines is risking its membership of the council, as well as its relationship with the body’s member-states.

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“Many of those states have bilateral relations with the Philippines and the government is jeopardising its good relations with governments around the world,” Mr Fisher told the Inquirer newspaper.

“It’s jeopardising its bilateral relations. It’s jeopardising its continued membership in the UN Human Rights Council if it fails to heed those calls and to address the warning signals.”

Mr Fisher raised the alarm more than a week after the Philippines concluded its Universal Periodic Review (UPR), in which 103 states forwarded 257 recommendations to address human rights issues in the country.

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The Philippine government only accepted 103 recommendations while rejecting the rest that were related to the war on drugs.

This includes the call to allow UN special rapporteur Agnes Callamard to conduct an independent probe into the campaign without any preconditions.

And as if the UPR results were not enough, 39 states – including long-time allies such as the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK – issued a joint statement expressing concern “about the thousands of killings and the climate of impunity associated with the war on drugs”.

This was the second joint statement issued against the Philippines at the Human Rights Council. The first came in June, when 32 states urged the Duterte administration to end extrajudicial killings and threats against human rights defenders, to cooperate with UN mechanisms and implement the most pressing UPR recommendations.

Such strong statements of concern and condemnation, Mr Fisher said, were “very, very rare”.

“It’s very, very rare that in addition to all the recommendations made during the UPR process that we also hear such a strong message of condemnation and concern as we’ve seen in the joint statement recently,” he said.

Mr Fisher said the Philippines, which was elected into the body in 2014, could face the risk of losing its membership if it would not cooperate with UN mechanisms.

“Unless the Philippines heeds those calls, it will find itself facing increasing demands by the international community, including the Human Rights Council, to accept an international investigation or face the real possibility of being excluded in the Human Rights Council,” he added.

The Human Rights Council is composed of 47 states elected every three years by the 192 member states of the UN General Assembly and is the UN’s foremost human rights body.

A council member’s rights and privileges could be suspended if it would persistent commit gross and systematic violations of human rights under its term of membership.

The Philippine government, however, has consistently maintained that there have been no state-sponsored killings in the country. Instead it says the deaths linked to the drug war were a result of “legitimate law enforcement operations or deaths that require further investigation following the established rules of engagement by the country’s law enforcers”.

The Malacañang has also defended the recent police claim that there had been “zero” extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration.

However, Mr Fisher said: “If the Philippine government maintains that it is respecting the international law in the conduct of its so called war on drugs, then it should have nothing to hide, and should be open to and welcome, in fact, an international scrutiny.”

He added that it was not too late for the government to “cooperate with the international community, to put an end to the killings, to put an end to the inflammatory rhetoric of the president and to ensure that it complies with international standards.”

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