The participants called on the Philippine government to take a more active stand on human rights issues internationally, and to back it up with progress on the human rights front domestically. For example, they felt that a National Human Rights Strategy Policy was overdue. And within ASEAN, the Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR) needs to become more forceful, and the ASEAN Human Rights Declaration that is currently being crafted should become an effective and unambiguous document – both issues require active involvement of the Philippine government.
Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) Secretary General, Rosemarie Trajano presented the highlights of the Joint Civil Society Report for the 2nd cycle of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) wherein the Philippines, among other States Parties, will be the focus by the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council on 29 May in Geneva, Switzerland. A network of 63 civil society organizations were involved in the drafting of the Philippines’ Human Rights report stating the actions the state has done “to improve the human rights situations in the country and to fulfill its human rights obligations.”
According to Ms. Trajano the emerging and pressing issues indicated in the UPR report that need immediate actions by the government are: meeting basic needs of the poor and other vulnerable groups, elimination of gender-based discrimination, addressing legislative gaps on children’s rights and trafficking in human beings.
Another priority issue in the Joint Civil Society Report is the campaign against torture in the country. Professor Ricardo Sunga of the Institute of Human Rights of the University of the Philippines Law Center (UP-IHR) presented the research output on the Confidential Inquiry Procedure of the UN Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
The political nature of this human rights violation makes it highly concealed and intractable. Being so, Prof Sunga said that the convention aims to “provide definition of torture and absolutely prohibits it; creates safeguards against it; and equips it with a range of reporting and other procedures to supervise monitoring of convention.”
The highlight of the forum was a talk on the Protection of Human Rights Defenders by the Deputy Director of Front Line Defenders, Mr. Andrew Anderson. He emphasized the primacy of protecting human rights defenders as the “key to making change to the human rights situation of anybody else.” He also affirmed the Philippines leadership role internationally when he said that the Filipinos “promoted the universality and indivisibility of human rights that time when it was under attack.” However, Mr. Anderson articulated the need for the Philippines to sustain this leadership role by forging solidarity with its ASEAN neighbors and by creating mechanisms to defend human rights defenders.
Director of UP IHR, Prof Beth Pangalangan, welcomed the participants. Providing reactions to the three speakers were Prof Raul Pangalangan, former Dean of UP College of Law; Dr Nymia Simbulan, Executive Director of PhilRights and Prof Milabel Cristobal of the De La Salle University College of Law. Concluding and synthesizing the forum was Executive Director of the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC), Atty. Arpee Santiago.
The Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Freedom (FNF) Philippine Office, in collaboration with the Institute of Human Rights of the University of the Philippines Law Center (UP-IHR), Medical Action Group (MAG), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), the Ateneo Human Rights Center (AHRC) and Philippine Human Rights Information Center (PhilRights) organized this platform to discuss three important issues: the Joint Civil Society Report for the Universal Periodic Review (citation below*); the Convention Against Torture and Its Confidential Inquiry Procedure; and the Protection of Human Rights Defenders domestically and internationally.
Friedrich Naumann Foundation Philippines country director Jules Maaten commented: “It is important that the human rights NGOs articulate where they believe more should be done to protect human rights, both within the Philippines and beyond. We need interaction between these NGOs on the one hand, and the administration and politicians on the other, to iron out these issues. After all, the Philippines has a proud tradition to maintain in defending universal human rights.”Note: * The Joint Civil Society Report for the 2nd Cycle Universal Periodic Review (UPR), Philippines, 28 November 2011 report was prepared by a network of 63 civil society organizations facilitated by the Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA). It can be download at http://www.agirpourlesdesc.org/IMG/pdf_PAHRA_Joint_CSO_Report_to_UPR_Nov_28_2011.pdf