Ecumenical Voice reports back on their engagement at the UN Human Rights Council, issues challenge to president-elect Noynoy Aquino on the continuing human rights violations in the Philippines

QUEZON CITY, PHILIPPINES — At a press conference following a successful attendance to and participation in the 14th Session of the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland from June 1-10, the Ecumenical Voice for Peace and Human Rights in the Philippines (Ecumenical Voice for brevity) vows to monitor the human rights situation in the Philippines under the new government. They also issued a challenge to President-elect Noynoy Aquino to fulfill his promise to prosecute President Macapagal-Arroyo and other human rights violators, accord justice to the victims of human rights violations, discontinue Oplan Bantay Laya and never embark on any similar policy.

The Ecumenical Voice delegation to the 14th Session of the UNHRC was composed of: Fr. Rex Reyes, Jr. (General Secretary, National Council of Churches in the Philippines), Ms. Marie Hilao-Enriquez (Chairperson, Karapatan), Atty. Edre Olalia (acting Secretary General, National Union of People’s Lawyers and President, International Association of People’s Lawyers), Mr. Jigs Clamor (Deputy Secretary General, Karapatan and husband of Dr. Merry Clamor of the Morong 43), Atty. Carlos Zarate (Secretary General, Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao); and Dr. Angie Gonzalez (International Coordinating Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines).

At the UNHRC, the Ecumenical Voice was able to deliver two oral interventions. One intervention delivered by Mr. Jigs Clamor highlighted the plight of the 43 health workers, also known as the Morong 43, and he urged the Council to look into the incident. Rev. Rex Reyes, Jr. who delivered the other intervention, referred to the repressive effects of Oplan Bantay Laya (OBL) as an anti-insurgency policy of the Arroyo government. He expressed the hope that the Human Rights Council will urge the government of President-elect Benigno Aquino, III to fulfil his campaign promise of prosecuting the perpetuators of human rights violations in the Philippines and abide by the government’s commitments and pledges to international human rights instruments. These oral interventions are available on the UNHRC’s webcast.

The Ecumenical Voice also held two side events and participated actively in one.

The first side event on June 2, had Professor Philip Alston, Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, among the panel of speakers. Even as his term as Special Rapporteur ends in July this year, he expressed continuing interest on human rights developments in the Philippines. He also praised human rights advocates and defenders in the Philippines, for comprehensive and well-documented presentations both to the international community and during those times he was preparing his reports. Alston shared his thoughts on what a new administration might encounter in the midst of the impunity reigning in the country. Prof. Alston warned that the newly elected president is most likely to be advised by some other state actors to go slow on his campaign promise to prosecute the perpetrators of the killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines. “The President-elect will likely be reminded that he is heavily dependent on the Armed Forces of the Philippines, not to cause problems and that any prosecution will alienate the military,” Alston said. This activity was co-sponsored by the Commission of Churches on International Affairs of the World Council of Churches (CCIA/ WCC), the United Methodist Church – General Board on Church and Society (UMC-GBCS), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA) and endorsed by the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL).

Lawyers Edre Olalia and Carlos Zarate participated in the June 3 side event organized by the Lawyers Rights Watch Canada, Dutch Lawyers for Lawyers Foundation, Judges for Judges and the International Commission of Jurists, which highlighted the plight of human rights lawyers and judges all over the world. During the side event, Brazilian Judge Gabriela C. Knaul de Albuquerque e Silva, the newly appointed UN Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers, committed to look into the situation of attacks on Filipino lawyers and judges and expressed that she was open to a possible country visit.

The last side event held on June 4, organized by the delegation and co-sponsored by the Civicus (World Alliance for Citizen Participation) and the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), drew attention to the plight of the 43 health workers, popularly known as the Morong 43. Among the panelists were Mr. Jigs Clamor and Ms. Marie Enriquez of KARAPATAN, Atty Edre Olalia of NUPL and Ms. Coco Quisumbing, of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Clamor and Enriquez discussed the circumstances of the arrest and detention of the health workers in relation to the human rights situation in the Philippines while Olalia, as counsel to the health workers, discussed the ramifications on the legal as well as on other institutions in the country of this case described by the delegation as “emblematic of human rights violations in the Philippines.”
The World Council of Churches (WCC), thru Dr. Mathews George Chunakara, Director for International Affairs and Ms. Christina Papazoglou, CCIA-WCC Executive Director for Human Rights, also invited the delegation to share the status of human rights in the Philippines to an audience at the WCC headquarters. The WCC is a consistent partner of the Philippine churches and other non-government organizations in human rights advocacy. A highlight of the delegation’s visit to the WCC was a call to Dr. Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary of the WCC, who assured the delegation of WCC’s continuing support.

Towards the end of their trip, the Ecumenical Voice accompanied KARAPATAN to formally bring the Morong 43 incident before the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. The same communications were submitted to the offices of the Mr. Manfred Nowak, UN Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment and Ms. Shaheen Sardar Ali, Vice-Chair Working Group on Arbitrary Detention of the UN Human Rights Council.

As an act of solidarity, Atty. Olalia, as duly authorized by the IADL Bureau, together with representatives of IADL and the American Association of Jurists, submitted communications to the offices of the Special Rapporteur on the Independence of Judges and Lawyers and the Special Rapporteur on Arbitary Detention. The communication was about the arrest in Rwanda of Peter Erlinder, the former US National Lawyers Guild president.

Finally, the Ecumenical Voice thanks the following partners for supporting the delegation at the Council session: The World Council of Churches, The Lutheran World Federation, the United Church of Christ in Canada, the General Board on Church and Society of the United Methodist Church in the USA, the Action Network Human Rights-Philippines based in Germany, the International Association of Democratic Lawyers, Migrante Geneva and Migrante Bern, Franciscans International, CIVICUS, the World Organization against Torture (OMCT), Lawyers Rights Watch of Canada, the American Association of Jurists, the Pilipino community in Geneva and the Conference of Non-Governmental Organizations (CONGO).

After the UN Geneva activities, delegation members also met with the EU Parliament Human Rights Unit Administrator Mr. Dionyz Hochel. The delegation briefed and gave him documents of the Morong 43 situation and he told the group that he will convey the delegation’s concern to the members of the EU Parliament Human Rights Committee. Through the lobbying efforts of the ICCHRP, Intal and other solidarity groups in Belgium, the delegation was also met by Mr. Florimond Van de Velde, Principal Administrator for South-East Asia of the European Commission, as well as Dr. Malgorzata Gorska, Policy Desk Officer of the Human Rights Unit of the EC, both of whom assured the group that the EU remains committed to ensuring the observance of human rights promotion and protection in their dealings with the governments, including the new administration in the Philippines. They expressed hope that cases of human rights violations will be prosecuted under the new administration.###

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