The Philippines has been selected to serve on the United Nations Human Rights Council, despite committing gross human rights abuses. On October 12, the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) announced that the Philippines was voted in during the elections held in New York. Human Rights Watch (HRW) vehemently opposed the Philippines’ candidacy, and well as that of other countries such as Eritrea, Bahrain, and Cameroon.
HWR’s UN director Louis Charbonneau expressed his disapproval for the Council. “Many UN member states talk a good game about strengthening the Human Rights Council, but this year all regional groups ignored the need for competitive elections,” Charbonneau said. “Instead of pushing candidates to demonstrate they’re worthy of joining the UN’s premier human rights body, the UN membership has put forward a non-competitive vote that makes a mockery of the word ‘election.’”
The UN Human Rights Council has the responsibility to uphold and guarantee fundamental rights to every individual. It also carries a symbolic value of protecting human rights and highlighting human rights violations committed around the world. However, the new council members disparage that commitment because of their own human rights records. The Philippines and other countries with similarly poor human rights records successfully gaining a seat on the Council is rather ironic. It sends a message about the value we place, as an international community, on human rights. The United States’ withdrawal from the Council in June also emphasizes the lack of commitment by the West. Together this is quite alarming. It could encourage states to commit human rights violations without any concerns of repercussion, due to its lack of protection on an institutional level.
Human Rights Watch reported that since Rodrigo Duterte’s election in the Philippines more than 12,000 suspected drug dealers and users have been shot in so-called “legitimate police operations.” Planting evidence on suspects’ bodies as well as imprisonment, threats and harassment are used to shut down dissent or criticism. Similarly, according to Amnesty International, Eritrea has repressed freedom of expression and continued with the practice of arbitrary detention without charges or trial. “Thousands of prisoners of conscience and political prisoners, including former politicians, journalists and practitioners of unauthorized religions, continued to be detained without charge or trial and lacked access to lawyers or family members. Many had been detained for well over a decade.”
Commitment to human rights needs to be enforced. The onus is on the United Nations to restore its dedication to human rights by electing candidates who exhibit a good record of human rights. The newly elected members make it difficult for other states, who believe in the promotion of human rights, to advocate for the Council’s mandate. Thus, the Council should select members who would not undermine its efforts.
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