Philippines in UN list of states that attack human rights defenders

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 13) — The United Nations has included the Philippines in its list of states that intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders, according to a major report to be presented to the world body's Human Rights Council next week.

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres' annual report on reprisals released Wednesday cited the Philippines for defaming the Commission on Human Rights (CHR), jailing a staunch critic of President Rodrigo Duterte and tagging human rights defenders as "terrorists."

"Punishing individuals for cooperating with the United Nations is a shameful practice that everyone must do more to stamp out," Guterres said in his report. He said the attacks have resulted in "self-censorship," and that many more of these incidents may be unreported.

In the Philippines' case, the U.N. expressed concern in October 2017 over the "defamatory and intimidating public statements" hurled at the CHR by President Rodrigo Duterte and his allies. The report said it was "because of its (CHR) human rights monitoring work and cooperation with the United Nations."

It also noted threats of being given zero budget and of abolition, and other acts that have affected the CHR's engagement with the U.N.

Duterte in 2017 publicly lashed out at CHR chairman Chito Gascon, even calling him a pedophile for focusing on the killing of teenagers in the drug war. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives initially gave the human rights body a ₱1,000 budget for 2018, but its multi-million peso budget was later restored.

Guterres also included in his report the detention of Senator Leila de Lima, a former CHR head who investigated alleged extrajudicial killings in Duterte's drug war.

The report noted that De Lima's drug cases may be "politically motivated," as the detained senator dismissed all charges against her as trumped up. Malacañang has denied going after De Lima and other critics of the government.

Finally, Guterres recalled concerns over the inclusion of least 80 recognized human rights defenders, and representatives of indigenous peoples and community-based organizations, in the government's list of terrorists.

The February 2018 petition is still pending before the court. It seeks to brand a total of 600 people as terrorists – including UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz – for their supposed links to communist rebels.

"A number of these individuals have been long-standing partners of the United Nations who believe their inclusion on this list is in part due to their international advocacy with the United Nations, including the Human Rights Council, the universal periodic review, the treaty bodies, and the special procedures," the U.N. report read.

The Philippines was among 29 states cited in the report to have new cases. The others were Bahrain, Cameroon, China, Colombia, Cuba, Democratic Republic of Congo, Djibouti, Egypt, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Hungary, India, Israel, Kyrgyzstan, Maldives, Mali, Morocco, Myanmar, Russian Federation, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, South Sudan, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Turkey, Turkmenistan, and Venezuela.

"The range of intimidation and reprisals continues to be broad and often disguised in legal, political and administrative hurdles," the report read. "Beyond measures such as travel bans, arbitrary arrest and detention, surveillance and defamation campaigns, initiatives such as budget cuts and selectively applied laws or new legislation that restrict the operations of organizations that are likely to cooperate with the United Nations are being seen."

Duterte has repeatedly criticized the international body for its comments on his bloody war on drugs, which, based on government data, has claimed over 4,000 lives since he assumed office in 2016. Local and international human rights groups have criticized the anti-drug campaign, saying this resulted in more than 13,000 extrajudicial killings. Malacañang said there are no state-sanctioned killings.