In condemning the resolution initiated by Iceland on behalf of 28 members of the United Nations and approved by the UN Human Rights Council asking UNHCR chief Michelle Bachelet to review the human rights situation in the Philippines and submit a comprehensive written report to the council, both Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. and Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo condemned the resolution as an affront to the country’s sovereignty.
Locsin said the Philippines “helped create the UN to honor the universal values of respect for sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of state which were brazenly and brutally violated on a global scale by those who censured us today.”
Panelo, on the other hand, said: “It reeks of nauseating politics completely devoid of respect for the sovereignty of our country, even as it is bereft of the gruesome realities of the drug menace in the country,” he said.
Both Locsin and Panelo should be lauded for coming to the defense of the country’s sovereignty, except for the fact that neither of them is consistent on matters of sovereignty. While they describe a legitimate mandate of the UNHRC to review the human rights situation of a member nation, the two high ranking government officials seem not at all concerned that their Chinese friends have been violating the Philippines’ sovereignty in the South China Sea by harassing Filipino fishermen inside the country’s exclusive economic zone, and building military installations in islands claimed by the Philippines, among other territorial infractions.
Locsin must be reminded that the United Nations was not established just to prevent the repeat of the two destructive world wars that preceded its founding, but also to promote and protect a humane world order and prevent the repeat of the atrocities committed by the perpetrators of the war, in other words to prevent the rise of another Adolf Hitler.
The UN Charter was very clear in its mission of promoting a peaceful and humane world. Thus, aside from its mission of maintaining international peace and security, the world body’s charter, of which the Philippines was among the 50 original signatories, specifies in Article 1.3: “To achieve international co-operation in solving international problems of an economic, social, cultural, or humanitarian character, and in promoting and encouraging respect for human rights and for fundamental freedoms for all without distinction as to race, sex, language, or religion.”
In other words, the United Nations is mandated to promote human rights and fundamental freedoms among its member nations. Certainly, reviewing, reporting and making recommendations as to how to achieve this mission is not interference in the country’s internal affairs. After all, it was made clear that the action would just be a review and not an “investigation” and would be done to enable the UNHRC commissioner to make recommendations that the Philippine government may or may not follow.
Sen. Francis Tolentino was right in saying the UNHRC action would not be binding, but a negative finding could have many consequences that could make the country a pariah in the family of nations or invite sanctions from the members.
Lcosin even threatened to withdraw the Philippines from membership in the UNHRC just like when President Duterte withdrew the country from the Rome Statute, the founding treaty of the International Criminal Court, on March 17, 2019 after the ICC started an investigation into the administration’s deadly drug war.
It seems that the only response of the Duterte administration to probing actions by international agencies is to withdraw from that body and hopefully escape from its jurisdiction. It suggests flight and resistance, the same excuses the police use to justify the thousands of murders perpetrated in the name of the war on drugs.
Locsin condemns what he calls bias by Western nations: “The Philippines is affronted that it should be named with the very breath of these authors of atrocities, noting that they are the same ones so bold to condemn the Philippines.” He was referring to some countries that voted in favor of the resolution that in the past were accused of human rights violations.
And yet, a look at those who voted with the Philippines to reject the Iceland resolution shows that most of them are currently under fire for various human rights violations, such as Angola, Bahrain, Cameroon, Cuba, Egypt, Eritrea, Hungary, India, Iraq, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Somalia. Many of these countries are under strongman rule.
It would also seem that the Duterte administration has chosen to align itself with nations that have been under fire for questionable human rights practices. Just last week, the Philippines joined 36 other nations in defending China’s treatment of Uighur and other minorities in the country’s Xinjiang region, where one-million people, mostly ethnic Uighurs, are reportedly being held in internment camps.
Rights groups and former inmates describe the internment sites in Xinjiang as “concentration camps” where mainly Muslim Uighurs and other minorities are being forcefully assimilated into China’s majority ethnic Han society.
But the Philippines and the other signatories of the letter, which was released last Friday at the close of the UNHRC’s 41 session, echoed China’s claim that the camps were “vocational education and training centers” and not concentration camps. The signatories included Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, Algeria and North Korea—countries not known for respecting human rights.
But China, instead of threatening to pull out of the UNHRC or calling the Western nations “fools,” opened Xinjiang’s doors to the international community and even invited diplomats and media outlets to tour the camps. When UNHRC chief Michelle Bachelet requested a fact-finding mission to Xinjiang, Beijing said the group is welcome although the UNHRC stressed that a visit will be only possible on certain conditions—including unfettered access to key sites.
The President and his key officials could learn a thing or two from the response of their newfound friends to the global outcry. Duterte, Panelo and other officials said those who condemn the drug war do not know the realities on the ground. If indeed, the government believes that it is doing the right thing in its drug war, why not let the UNHRC people come in and conduct its “fact-finding” mission?
Enough of their knee-jerk reactions.
Mr. Abelgas is a former managing editor of Manila Standard. He now lives in the United States.