By Camille A. Aguinaldo
THE PHILIPPINES’ top diplomat on Sunday responded to the joint statement of 38 countries led by Iceland during a United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) meeting which urged the Philippines to cooperate with the UN in assessing the human rights situation in the country.
“We regret that Iceland and several other countries maintained their position despite our offer for them to visit the Philippines and objectively assess the human rights situation, especially at the community level,” Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter S. Cayetano, who is currently in New York, said in a statement.
“Unfortunately, it seems our friends are really not interested in arriving at the truth and would rather rely on the misinformation being fed to them by parties that have politicized and weaponized human rights,” Mr. Cayetano also said.
He added: “Politics is politics but politicizing human rights endangers lives.”
Mr. Cayetano also said he has personally extended an invitation to Iceland’s Foreign Minister Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson to visit Manila to see for himself the human rights situation in the country.
At the general debate of the UNHRC’s 38th session last June 19, Iceland said the international body may pursue initiatives to ensure member states such as the Philippines comply with its human rights obligations.
It also urged the Philippines to put an end to killings associated with the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. The European country also expressed concerns over the reported harassment of human rights defenders, journalists, and members of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR).
“We are encouraged by reports that the Government of the Philippines has indicated a willingness to cooperate with the UN to allow an objective assessment of the human rights situation in the country. We urge the Government of the Philippines to cooperate with the United Nations system —including the Human Rights Council and its special procedure mandate holders — without preconditions or limitations,” Iceland stated.
Iceland delivered the statement on behalf of Australia, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Canada, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Macedonia, Montenegro, Netherlands, New Zealand, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Ukraine, United Kingdom, and the United States.
The Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) said Philippine Permanent Representative to the UN Evan P. Garcia has responded to the joint statement during the general debate, saying the Philippines remained a responsible member state of the UNHRC.
“We are respectful of our international human rights obligations. We remain a free, dynamic, and democratic society. There is no basis, therefore, for the Council to be concerned with the situation in the Philippines,” Mr. Garcia was quoted as saying.
He also pointed to the anti-migrant sentiments of some European countries, including the nations that spoke against the Philippines.
“We remind countries that have such severe shortcomings, including the United Kingdom and Australia, that the Philippines has preferred to engage with them in a positive manner, whether bilaterally or multilaterally. This is in stark contrast with the needlessly confrontational attitude they have taken in (the Human Rights) Council,” Mr. Garcia said.
Mr. Thordarson previously raised the human rights situation in the Philippines last February during the 37th session of the UNHRC. Some 39 countries, including Iceland, also urged the Philippines in Sept. last year to end the killings related to the government’s war on drugs after the Philippine government rejected some of the recommendations of UN member states to address human rights issues in the country.