More by force of circumstance than by agreement, both the Philippines and the United States tried hard this year to bring to the attention of the United Nations the connection between human rights and peace and security.
The US did so because of its need for a theme for its presidency of the UN Security Council; the Philippines because of international concern for possible human rights violations in the ongoing war on illegal drugs.
In April this year, as the United States began its three-year presidency of the UN Security Council, the US dedicated its leadership to making the connection between human rights and peace and security—a connection that had often been overlooked by the council in the past.
The US even pointed out then that human rights violations and abuses were not merely the incidental byproduct of conflict, but were the trigger for conflict.
For at least a decade, the Security Council has received briefings from human rights officials within the UN and, occasionally, from outside organizations that work on human rights. Over the last year, those briefings have included the risk of genocide in South Sudan, war crimes in Syria, politically motivated killings in Burundi and the atrocities committed by the Islamic State.
That April meeting essentially amounted to the first human rights briefing at the Security Council that was not tied to a particular conflict.
This September, the Philippines, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano in the lead, delivered a strong statement to address the criticisms of some countries concerning alleged human rights violations in the drug war. The statement also intended to manifest the Philippine commitment to uphold human rights in carrying out its responsibility to protect Filipinos from the threat posed by illegal drugs, criminality and terrorism.
Secretary Cayetano delivered the statement during the high-level debate at the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly,
He said: “The Philippines integrates the human rights agenda in its development initiatives for the purpose of protecting everyone, especially the most vulnerable, from lawlessness, violence and anarchy.”
“Security and human rights are not incompatible. Indeed, the first is our duty to the other,” Cayetano said.
“Without security, the most basic human rights to life and safety are constantly under attack from terrorism, criminality, drugs and human trafficking.”
Earlier, before the start of the 72nd UN session, the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva unanimously adopted the Third Universal Periodic Review Report of the Philippines, wherein the country reiterated Manila’s commitment to its human rights obligations under the international treaties it has ratified.
The Philippines also addressed squarely global concern about the government’s war on drugs.
Cayetano declared that the Philippine government’s campaign against illegal drugs was a necessary instrument to preserve and protect the human rights of all Filipinos, and was never an instrument to violate human rights.
President Rodrigo Duterte launched the campaign against the illegal drug trade with the objective in mind of saving lives, preserving families, protecting communities and stopping the country from sliding into narco-statehood.
As his final message, Cayetano asked countries that are critical of Manila’s drug war to respect Philippine sovereignty and not tell it what to do.
He said: “The Philippines expects its sovereignty to be respected, and the government’s assessment of threats to be accorded recognition.”
Taken all together, we think this is creditable presentation and defense of the Philippine policy and record in both peace-and-security and human rights.