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Home Opinion Op-Ed Columns The UN Human Rights Council resolution: Not a boxing game

The UN Human Rights Council resolution: Not a boxing game

JAIME J. YAMBAO

THERE was no knockout, and the winner was decided on points by the judges. But a boxing game the recent UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution against the Philippines, pushed mainly by Iceland, was not. No side should raise his arm in jubilation or feel aggrieved or outraged by the result. The matter’s not worth the strong and colorful invectives and other extreme emotional manifestations that some people have greeted the resolution with.

The resolution does not even appear to act on complaints by any sector. The complaints procedure of the UNHRC has stiff requirements, among them, a detailed description of the relevant facts, including names of alleged victims, dates and locations of the human rights violations, and other evidentiary details. What the resolution calls on the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to do is prepare a comprehensive report to establish the facts about the human rights situation in the Philippines, especially the signature war on drugs of the Duterte administration.

A main task of the UNHRC is to conduct a periodic review of the performance of all UN member-countries in the human rights field. The Philippines in 2018 passed the last review cycle. The report called for by the Iceland resolution seems to be in advance of the next cycle. From the perspective of the review just passed and the next one, the review subject of the Iceland resolution may be considered superfluous.

Unlike the nation-state, the UN does not have a system or mechanism to enforce its decisions. All its resolutions are recommendatory except those by the Security Council which are mandatory but have been many times ignored without any significant consequences for the violators.


Respect for the sovereignty of its members is in fact a cardinal principle of the United Nations Charter. The United Nations is bound not to intervene in the domestic affairs of a member-country, particularly in a domestic program that the member-country considers a vital priority. The probe that the resolution calls for could well distract, interfere, or prevent law enforcers from the performance of their duties. It should be enough to assure the world that the program is conducted under human rights safeguards.

The Philippine government is well within its rights to reject the resolution, not to mention that the resolution passed on a very close vote, with numerous abstentions

But as a repeatedly elected member of the UNHRC, the Philippine government may, after tempers cool down, feel bound to cooperate with the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights in the preparation of her report, as the resolution calls for. The UNHRC like most UN bodies and international organizations depends on a system of reports in the performance of their functions. It is the only way the organization can measure how much its members live up to their commitments. Whatever shortcomings are found of the members are later resolved by or in the organization through dialogue and cooperation.

The resolution calls on the Philippine government to let the UN fact-finders enter the country. How else could the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights come up with an accurate and fair report except by the sending of reliable and capable fact-finders? The alternative to accepting these fact-finders may be disadvantageous to the Philippines. In preparing her report, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the alternative might be left to depend on less-informed or less impartial sources.

UN protocols on the conduct of such fact-finders of their missions take account of the interests of UN members, who pay a share of the UN budget. Among the ground rules for these fact-finders is that they should first of all see concerned government authorities and take down their side. Another is that upon completion of their report, the government should be given a copy before it is released to the council and the public.

As a member of the council, the Philippines can have some voice or say about the qualifications of these fact-finders. The United States and other countries have objected to the appointment of certain rapporteurs on the basis of probable bias or partiality as raised by these persons’ previous actuations or advocacies. For this report, it would be desirable that the fact-finders come from developing countries. They are in a better position to understand the situation the Philippines is in. This is especially so with the report which, while not being limited to the war on drugs of the Duterte administration, is expected to focus on it. Those from developing countries may be better expected to realize the gravity of the threat posed by the drugs problem to Philippine society and the future of the country.

In developed countries, users of dangerous drugs tend to be harmful only to themselves. A good number of so-called celebrities are not known to be addicted to drugs until they die of overdose or commit suicide. People turn to drugs for recreation or escape until they become dysfunctional and go to rehabilitation centers and all is well again. Small wonder that developed countries tend to be increasingly liberal or lax about the enactment and enforcement of laws prohibiting the use of dangerous substances. Marijuana has been legalized in several places in the developed world. Certain countries allow the use of prohibited drugs in designated places. Drug addicts are treated as patients because it is easy to distinguish addicts from pushers.

The Philippines, on the other hand, has a terrible problem with illegal drugs. It has become so alarming as it has afflicted even the very poor, including the young among them. How else could the very poor afford their addiction other than being pushers themselves and turning to criminal activities? How many lethal crimes have been committed by persons under the influence of illegal drugs? To be fair and impartial, the UN fact-finders must be able to recognize the good intentions of the Philippine government’s unprecedented war on drugs. The government seeks to protect the general public’s right to the security of their persons and their future and that of future generations. To protect this right of the general public, the high risks that law enforcers face in dealing with ruthless and dangerous criminals must be appreciated. As the General Assembly resolution creating the UNHRC says, ”All human rights are universal, indivisible, interrelated, interdependent, mutually reinforcing… All human rights must be treated in a fair and equal manner…”

The outcome of the whole exercise culminating with the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, with its findings and recommendations, will of course depend on the quality of the work contributed by all concerned. Prior to meeting the UN fact-finders, the concerned Philippine authorities should do their homework, preparing the Philippine government report on the accomplishments and prospects of its war on drugs, particularly their impact on the life of the nation. It is time anyway for the Philippine government to inform the people of the progress of this key program.

All this may cost time and resources that could be spent on other much-needed programs of the government, but the sacrifice is worth it. The country must protect its good name internationally because its standing in the international community may be the only thing that keeps more powerful countries from gobbling up our peace-loving and ill-armed country.

Speaking of efforts that should be shifted to other, greater problem areas, why doesn’t the UNHRC give more focus to the human rights abuses in the civil wars in Syria and Yemen where innocent civilians, including women, children, and the elderly, have been killed, maimed, rendered homeless or displaced in the millions or even much more than the figures of casualties in the war on drugs cited by the so-called human rights defenders in the Philippines? Why doesn’t it pay attention to Latin American countries that, in contrast to the Duterte administration, have done nothing about their murderous drug syndicates forcing millions of their people to flee and seek refuge in other countries?

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