Ladies and gentlemen,
I am pleased to address you here at the Human Rights Council today.
This session is a good opportunity to take stock of our joint efforts working together to find solutions to human rights challenges in the Philippines. During this period, I have seen a lot of goodwill, from Government actors, from the Commission on Human Rights, from civil society actors, and from development partners.
Within the United Nations itself, we have also explored new collaborations, bringing together the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; the United Nations Educational, Social and Cultural Organization; the United Nations Office of Counter Terrorism; and the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime to work with the Government of the Philippines and national partners around a common human rights agenda.
In 2020, resolution 45/33 provided a critical framework, outlining areas which have formed the basis for our action. The United Nations Joint Programme document, signed some 14 months ago, was the product of intensive consultations between a broad range of partners from the Government, the Commission on Human Rights, civil society and the United Nations. There are too many partners to mention, but allow me to recognize here the important role played by the late Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights, Chito Gascon, who is sadly missed.
We welcome commitments by the new administration to enhance implementation of the UN Joint Programme. At the same time, I cannot help but to note that polarization and a deficit of trust among different actors remains a critical obstacle. The Joint Programme is an important bridge, but to bring transformation in these relationships requires an environment in which all interlocutors can engage with security.
Looking ahead for the UN Joint Programme, I would like to share with you five recommendations which, if implemented, would contribute greatly to human rights protection and promotion in the Philippines as we move forward together.
First, recognizing that our ultimate responsibility is to the victims of human rights violations and abuses, and that they should be at the center of our work, I recommend that further efforts be focused on strengthening victim and witnesses support. Victims and their families are in many cases met with stigma, discrimination and sometimes threats and warnings not to proceed with criminal cases. Instead, there is a need for increased focus on providing psyco-social, legal and financial support to help victims and their families rebuild their lives, and to enable them to seek justice without fear of repercussions.
Secondly, justice is still needed in thousands of killings in the context of anti-drug operations, I recommend increased urgency on the accountability agenda. A number of human rights cases are at various stages of review and investigation, including through the Interagency Review Panel and the Inter-Agency Committee On Extra-Legal Killings, Enforced Disappearances, Torture and Other Grave Violations, also known as the AO35 Mechanism. We need results in the form of successful investigations and prosecutions trials that conform to international standards. Increased efforts in this area must include increasing transparency on the status of investigations and on any obstacles to achieving justice, and sustained engagement with civil society and victims.
Thirdly, in line with commitments in the 2016 UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem, it is recommended that further steps be taken towards health-centered and evidence-based treatment and preventive approaches, increasing access to services for people who use drugs. Moving further from the current law enforcement response to more outpatient, community and voluntary approaches is crucial, from prevention to treatment and harm reduction services. Moreover, a high number of individuals are awaiting trial on non-bailable drug-related offences, contributing to severe overcrowding in detention centers.
Fourth, noting the Philippines’ considerable engagement with international human rights mechanisms, I recommend the development of a National Human Rights Action Plan for the period 2023 to 2027. The new administration has a historic opportunity to launch an all-inclusive consultative process to set a transformative milestone in the human rights agenda. Such a plan should include actions for the implementation of recommendations from the Universal Periodic Review Process, treaty bodies and Special Rapporteurs. The UN Joint Programme can provide the required technical support.
Fifth, considering that making progress in any development area is always a collective learning experience, I recommend that OHCHR produce a public follow- up report in two years’ time, to evaluate changes in the human rights situation and the impact of the UN Joint Programme. This will allow us to take stock and look forward to next steps.
Let me recognize here that our work would not be possible without the support of our resource partners, who have contributed to the establishment of a growing partnership platform. I take this opportunity to invite other member states to rapidly join this collective effort.
I truly do appreciate what we have started, as a cooperative and genuine way of promoting human rights – with all its challenges – and of translating the concerns of the Council into practical action on the ground. I am convinced that through continuing what we have started in the UN Joint Programme, we can make a significant progress together, and that such collaboration amongst diverse views will create lasting results that benefit everyone.
A recording of Mr. Gonzalez’s statement can be viewed or downloaded here.