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APF concerned by attacks on Philippines' rights body

Graphic: Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

The APF has expresed its "grave concern" over public statements attacking the work of the Philippines NHRI and its Chairperson.

29 August 2017

Jose Luis Martin C. Gascon
Chairperson
Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines

Dear Chairperson

I address this letter to you as Chairperson of the Asia Pacific Forum of National Human Rights Institutions (APF), which is the United Nations (UN) recognised regional body of national human rights institutions (NHRIs) in the Asia Pacific.

As you know the APF represents 24 NHRIs from around the Asia Pacific region, 15 of which, including your esteemed NHRI, have been accredited as being fully compliant with the Paris Principles and provided with 'A' status at the UN.

It has been brought to my attention that the President of the Republic of the Philippines has made a number of public statements attacking the work of your Commission and you personally. It appears that these public attacks seek to intimidate and undermine the integrity of the Commission to independently perform its constitutionally mandated role as the Philippines' principal human rights body.

These actions against an independent state body that is fulfilling its constitutional duties to protect and promote human rights are of grave concern to the APF. In line with the domestic mandate of your NHRI, I am aware of your regular reports and statements commenting on the human rights dimension of the administration's 'war on drugs'. I have noted the significant increase in the workload of your Commission and the impact this issue is having on the daily lives of ordinary people. I was particularly concerned about alleged involvement of the State in sanctioning and encouraging extrajudicial killings.

As you know, the Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institutions (GANHRI) has adopted a 'General Observation' which is relevant to NHRIs when working in a situation of a state of emergency. This General Observation provides that:

"In the situation of a coup d'état or a state of emergency, it is expected that an NHRI will conduct itself with a heightened level of vigilance and independence, and in strict accordance with its mandate. NHRIs are expected to promote and ensure respect for human rights, democratic principles and the strengthening of the rule of law in all circumstances and without exception. In situations of conflict or a state of emergency, this may include monitoring, documenting, issuing public statements and releasing regular and detailed reports through the media in a timely manner to address urgent human rights violations."

The justification for this General Observation is as follows:

Under the Paris Principles, NHRIs have the responsibility to promote and protect human rights (Paris Principle A.1). The powers and responsibilities of an NHRI contained in Paris Principle A.3 include:

  • Reporting on human rights violations (Paris Principle A.3(a)(ii)–(iii));
  • Monitoring and reporting on government action or inaction (Paris Principle A.3(a)(iv)); and
  • Publicizing its views on any matters concerning the promotion and protection of human rights (Paris Principle A.3(a)). This responsibility is further elaborated in Paris Principle C(c), which provides that a NHRI should have the capacity to address public opinion directly or through any press organ, particularly in order to publicize its opinions and recommendations.

Relevantly to the current circumstances in the Philippines, the General Observation states:

  • NHRIs, as independent and impartial bodies, play a particularly important role by investigating allegations of violations promptly, thoroughly and effectively. As such, NHRIs will be expected to promote and ensure respect for human rights, democratic principles and strengthening the rule of law in all circumstances without exception. This may include issuing public statements and releasing regular and detailed reports through the media in a timely manner to address urgent human rights violations.
  • In order to fulfil its obligations, it is necessary that the NHRI continue to conduct itself with a heightened level of vigilance and independence in the exercise of its mandate. The GANHRI Sub-Committee on Accreditation will scrutinize the extent to which the NHRI concerned has taken steps to the maximum of its available resources to provide the greatest possible protection for the human rights of each individual within its jurisdiction.

In line with the responsibilities of 'A' status NHRIs and the requirements of the GANHRI General Observation, I wish to congratulate the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines for performing its mandate so diligently.

The APF stands ready to support your NHRI.

Yours sincerely

Mr Jamsran Byambadorj
APF Chairperson




Image credits

  1. Jose Luis Martin Gascon, Chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines - Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines