SHOULD President Rodrigo Duterte host an international summit on human rights?
“It will be a welcome initiative,” said European Union Parliament member Enrique Guerrero Salom of Spain. But London-based Amnesty International said the Philippines had no moral ascendancy to host it, due to the thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings in President Duterte’s anti-narcotics campaign.
This article will not get into this debate on whether the Philippines should host an international summit on rights. Rather, let us ponder how such a conference might be like if the Philippines under Duterte did plan and undertake it.
Many may assume it would skirt the EJKs issue. That would rob the forum of a core human right, which may well make the summit a sham. More crucially, skirting EJKs would deny the Duterte government a singular opportunity to present its perspective on the use of lethal force in law enforcement.
Indeed, that’s a debate President Duterte himself set as a condition for allowing UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur Agnes Callamard to undertake an investigative visit. She can criticize the anti-drug war, but he should be allowed to counter her comments to her face in public.
So, deaths in law enforcement would be a key issue in the summit, perhaps with Duterte or his spokesman, human rights lawyer Harry Roque, jousting with Callamard on balancing the public’s right to peace and order against the right of suspects to be protected from state violence of any kind, especially the lethal.
A related issue are legal procedures applying to terrorist suspects. Even Western nations like France now allow prolonged detention without charges or bail, to safeguard its citizens from attack. In America’s Guantanamo detention facility in Cuba, interrogation methods have been used on captured terrorists which many in the US have justified.
And perhaps the biggest Western double standard of all, the US and Europe have muted their criticism of abusive regimes like Egypt’s military dictatorship, which happen to repress anti-Western Islamic groups, while endlessly excoriating China and Russia for allegedly doing the same thing.
Settling historical scores
Another Duterte rights issue is the one he angrily presented to then US President Barack Obama at the Asean Summit in Vientiane last year: violations and atrocities committed against subjugated peoples, but never acknowledged by Western colonial powers, like the massacres of unarmed Filipino villagers in Bud Dajo and Balangiga during the American conquest of the Philippines at the start of the 20th century.
The Duterte summit could include academic lectures and historical documentaries recounting colonial-era abuses on native populations in all continents. Through deliberations among national leaders and conference sessions and material posted online, the world can finally acknowledge the rights of colonized populations, and the excesses committed against them by the West.
Then the world would realize that most of the abuses in developing nations decried by Western governments and rights advocates are far less brutal and prevalent than the ones done by their forebears in the countries they castigate.
Plainly, the West does not have the moral ascendancy to lambast modern-day abuses if it does not accept accountability and responsibility for its gross violations on whole nations over the centuries.
Environmental ones, too
President Duterte is also a strong advocate of environmental issues, especially responsible mining. He may then want to see the summit uphold the rights of communities adversely affected by mining, pollution, deforestation and other ecological enormities.
Compared with law enforcement deaths, the mortality and morbidity due to environmental degradation is far greater and more widespread, often caused by resource extraction by or for wealthy nations, or the debilitating pollution from industrial enterprises funded or patronized by the developed world.
For the Philippines and other nations in the mega-storm belt, a further source of death and destruction is global warming. Like colonial-era abuses, the fatalities and suffering visited on nations hit by climate change — due to mega-storms, droughts, and killer diseases reaching new areas as temperatures rise — are many times greater than the killings and arrests condemned by the West.
President Duterte nearly pulled the Philippines out of the Paris climate change pact, which took effect last November, noting the high 70 percent carbon emissions reduction we pledged, if we got ample financial assistance. He argued that rich nations ought to undertake the biggest adjustments to moderate global warming, since their centuries of fossil-fuel burning were mainly responsible for climate change today.
If global media would demonize Duterte for 4,000 alleged EJKs in his war on drugs, what about the estimated 15,000 killed by Supertyphoon Haiyan (Yolanda) alone, one of the many disasters driven by global warming.
And which is more morally dubious: the Duterte government balking at the UN Human Rights Council’s criticism of drug-related deaths, or the Trump administration pulling America out of the Paris accord, greatly holding back efforts to moderate global warming, which has wiped out many millions of lives and livelihoods worldwide?
Toward an inclusive rights declaration
Next year, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights will turn 70. And just as President Duterte called on the Asia Pacific Economic (APEC) forum to make globalization more inclusive toward nations and people left behind, a similar review and reform of the world’s human rights regime may be due.
From a largely Western liberal perspective, the Declaration can be infused with the interests and imperatives of developing nations, including the need to address historical, environmental, and security aspects relating to human rights. (Another rights balancing act for the summit: press freedom vs the public’s right to unbiased, truthful coverage, amid the spread of fake news.)
Now, who would be best situated in convening all the world, especially developing nations, in deliberating the foregoing rights issues? And who would have the moral ascendancy to lead a summit to review the global rights regime largely dominated by the West?
Whoever is chosen, President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and the Filipino people deserve to be among the contenders in hosting the international summit on the 70th anniversary of the world’s rights manifesto.