UN panel lauds PH for RH, other laws; thumbs down extrajudicial killings

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MANILA – A United Nations panel report praised the Philippines for enacting laws on reproductive health and anti-enforced disappearances, among others, but called for a stop to extrajudicial killings and violence against drug users.

The United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights released its observations on the Philippines’ combined fifth and sixth periodic report regarding its implementation of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights.

The UN Committee looked at the Philippines’ report during meetings on September 28 and 29. The panel then adopted its observations on its meeting on October 7.

The UN Committee said it “welcomes” the Philippines’ adoption of the following laws: the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Act of 2012; the Anti-Enforced Disappearances Act in 2012; the Act amending the Migrant Workers and Overseas Filipinos Act of 1995 in 2010; and the Magna Carta of Women in 2009.

It also approved of the Philippines’ ratification of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 2012.

But for the most part, the UN Committee was “deeply concerned” about the country’s human rights situation, including the circumstances of women, child laborers, indigenous peoples, human rights defenders, and workers, to name a few sectors.

Violence vs drug users

The UN Committee also zeroed in on the government’s policy towards drug users, saying violence against them must stop.

“The Committee is deeply concerned that declarations made by high-ranking officials in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ may be seen to encourage and legitimize violence against drug users, including extrajudicial killings,” the UN Committee said. “Indeed, the number of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects has drastically increased in recent months and a large number of people have been arrested and detained in already overcrowded prisons. Poor neighborhoods and individuals have been disproportionately affected in this process.”

The Duterte administration has bristled at criticism that in waging the war on drugs, the State was responsible for the bulk of the rash of drug-related killings, as the PNP’s official operations accounted for less than half of the 3,700 deaths so far. Duterte and the PNP have said these so-called “deaths under investigation” may have been done by drug lords wiping our rivals or their downstream networks who could implicate them; or by vigilantes. Rights groups worry these could be done by vigilantes covertly sanctioned by rogue police officers.

Meanwhile, the UN Committee pointed out that as drug users and those who possess drugs are being treated as criminals, they are being hindered from receiving treatment that they need.

It lamented that there was a shortage of treatment centers that provide “evidence-based health services”, and voiced its alarm at the high prevalence of HIV and AIDS, as well as Hepatitis C, among people who inject drugs.

“The Committee urges the State to stop and prevent extrajudicial killings and any form of violence against drug users,” it said.

It also called for the prompt and thorough investigation of all of such reported cases, and for the punishment of perpetrators to match the gravity of their crimes.

The UN Committee asked that the government also “take all necessary measures” to make sure that the war on drugs does not discriminate against the poor and the marginalized.

Instead of criminalizing drug use, the UN Committee recommended that the government “adopt a right-to-health approach to drug abuse with harm-reduction strategies, such as syringe exchange programs; and increase the availability of treatment services that are evidence-based and respectful of the rights of drug users.”

In a press release, National Economic and Development Authority deputy director general Rosemarie Edillon was quoted as saying the Filipino officials found it “a privilege” to discuss “with human rights experts who could provide guidance on issues which were of equal concern to the government.”

Displaced lumad

Brought up during the discussion between the Philippine officials and the UN Committee Experts was the situation of the indigenous peoples in Mindanao (lumad) who had been displaced because of the presence of military and paramilitary groups, as well as the latter’s conflict with the rebel New People’s Army.

The two parties also talked about inclusive growth, the rights of persons with disabilities, “deplorable working conditions in sweatshops”, and “the protection of informal workers”.

The UN Committee was also concerned about forced evictions undertaken “to give way to public-private partnership projects”.

But the UN Committee Experts were particularly concerned about the extrajudicial killings linked to the war on drugs, with the poorest populations “seem(ing)” to bear the brunt of it.

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