The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has expressed his concerns over the Philippine government’s treatment of UN human rights investigators, and has suggested that President Duterte should “submit himself to some sort of psychiatric evaluation.” This comes after the Philippine government included special rapporteur on indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, on a list of 600 communist terrorists. In a statement made to media in Geneva, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein voiced his outrage over this move and said that “These attacks cannot go unanswered, the human rights watch must take a position.”
The Department of Justice developed the list last month and put forth a petition that would afford the government power to monitor the movements of those who use “acts of terror” to undermine the government. Human Rights Watch claims that the list puts all 600 people in danger and has labelled it as the “government hit list.”
“The attack against the special rapporteur is taking place in the context of widespread extrajudicial executions and ongoing attacks against voices who are critical of the current government, including human rights defenders,” said Michael Frost, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders. Tauli-Corpuz has been critical of the persecution of indigenous Lumand peoples in the Philippines, and the inclusion of her name on the terrorist list has been described as retaliation for her work. She has publicly defended herself and has labelled the allegations as “baseless, malicious and irresponsible.”
Since coming to power in June of 2016 Duterte has waged a ‘war on drugs’ by employing an extreme drug policy that has included extrajudicial killings. According to Human Rights Watch, an estimated 12,000 people have been killed in this drug war, mostly people from poor backgrounds and urban regions in the Philippines.
In response to the statements made by the UN human rights chief, The Philippine Secretary of Foreign Affairs, Peter Cayetano released a statement labeling the remarks as “irresponsible and disrespectful” while expressing his concerns over the “manner in which a ranking UN human rights official can overstep his mandate and insult leaders of member-states without first giving them die process.”
This is not the first time Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein and Rodrigo Duterte have come to blows; earlier this month the UN human rights chief publically criticized Duterte’s order telling the police not to cooperate with any UN special rapporteur conducting investigations into his war on drugs. As a response, the Philippine President called Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein “stupid” and a “son of a b****,” and threatened to feed UN special rapporteurs to crocodiles.
As one of the 47 member-states of the human rights council, it is vital that the government of the Philippines fully support the work of UN human rights investigators without exception. Since 2016 Duterte has persecuted his own people, justified by his war on drugs. This strategy of intimidation has been extended to include anyone who is critical of his government and his methods. This is a troubling development and it is important that the international community continues to condemn his policies to ensure his power does not go unchecked.
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