THE top human rights official of the United Nations (UN) has accused President Rodrigo Duterte of breaking long-held taboos by speaking openly about extra-judicial killings that could threaten international law.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in a speech delivered in London, also expressed concern over US President Donald Trump’s “persistent flirtation” with torture, which was banned under the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
“The President of the Philippines has spoken openly about extra-judicial killings. And the president of the United States of America has said that torture could be necessary in certain circumstances. There is no longer any pretence. They are breaking long-held taboos,” Zeid said.
Duterte has repeatedly said that he will not hesitate to kill drug dealers.
The UN official warned that if the practice of torture is likely to spread if other leaders will start following the same rhetoric course and undermining the Convention with their words.
“That would be fatal. The Convention would be scuttled, and a central load-bearing pillar of international law removed,” he said.
The Convention against Torture was ratified by 162 countries.
“Most worrisome to me is the persistent flirtation by the President of the United States, throughout his campaign and soon thereafter, with a return to torture,” he said.
Although the chances of a return to the practice of “enhanced interrogation techniques” are slim, Zeid said the mood in the US could change dramatically and the balance could tip in favor of the practice in an event of a terrorist attack.
The UN human rights official also blasted British Prime Minister Theresa May’s openness to overturn human rights laws if these “get in the way” in the fight against terrorism.
Zeid said May’s remarks could be a reflection of her anger and frustration following the recent and dreadful terrorist attacks but they also seemed intended to strike a chord with a certain sector.
“What, exactly, are the rights she considers frivolous or obstructive? The right to privacy? The right to liberty and security of person? Freedom of expression? Freedom of religion and belief? The principle of non-refoulement?
The prohibition of torture? Due process?” asked Zeid.
“The dangers to the entire system of international law are therefore very real,” he added.
On Wednesday, Senate President Aquilino Pimentel 3rd on Wednesday dismissed claims made by an international human rights watchdog that President Rodrigo Duterte unleashed a human rights calamity in the Philippines in his first year of office.
Pimentel said the report of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) was “too dramatic” and not accurate.
The HRW said the government’s “war on drugs, drug-related overcrowding of jails, and the harassment and prosecution of drug war critics has caused a steep decline in respect for basic rights since Duterte’s inauguration on June 30, 2016.”
Sen. Richard Gordon, chairman of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, also did not agree with the report.
Gordon said that while many have been killed, human rights advocates have not presented evidence to prove that the government is behind the killings.
He noted that killings under the Duterte administration are not far from the figures under the administration of President Benigno Aquino 3rd that averaged 12,000 a year.
The senator said 16,000 people were killed in 2013.
“I don’t tolerate it (killing) but all I want for these groups is to come out and give the evidence,” Gordon added.
“That is why President Duterte is getting some support from the public. Because there is no actual proof on the many killings that have occurred,” the senator said.
Asked if the human rights situation in the Philippine could passed his standards as chairman of the committee on justice and human rights, Gordon replied: “It did not past human rights scrutiny.”
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson for his part recognizes the advocacy being pursued by the HRW however the President also has his own advocacy.
“What will remain as an unresolved issue is, which is more important – the rights of the ordinary people who by nature are helpless and exposed to the sick-in-the-mind and sometimes ruthless predators, or the rights of those the government would inevitably violate in order to protect the innocent ones? I have taken my pick,” Lacson added.
Senate Majority Leader Vicente Sotto 3rd agreed that the HRW report was inaccurate.
“These critics are starting to sound like they favor illegal drugs. I have never heard them cry out for the human rights of victims of drug addicts,” he said.
Meanwhile, Sen. Panfilo Lacson said that he recognizes the advocacy being pursued by the HRW. However, he said that the President also has his own advocacy.
“What will remain as an unresolved issue is which is more important? The rights of the ordinary people who by nature are helpless and exposed to the sick-in-the-mind and sometimes ruthless predators, or the rights of those the government would inevitably violate in order to protect the innocent ones? I have taken my pick,” Lacson added.