ADJOURNMENT; Philippines: Human Rights (1)

August 01, 2019

Mr HAYES (FowlerChief Opposition Whip) (12:50): These are the hopeful words of Senator Leila de Lima following the United Nations Human Rights Council's approval of a resolution to investigate the flagrant human rights situation in the Philippines:

The door of domestic investigation may have been shut, but the windows of international scrutiny are beginning to open up toward justice for the Filipino people

As a prominent critic of President Duterte's regimes, Senator de Lima has been arbitrarily detained without charge since 2007 for her public criticisms, but she has been most encouraged by the council's resolution.

This significant yet relatively modest step signals the start of accountability for the victims of President Duterte's policy of extrajudicial executions. On 11 July, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution calling for the independent and comprehensive monitoring of and reporting on the human rights violations and abuses occurring in the Philippines. I commend the Australian government and, in particular, the minister for this bold stance taken to address the human rights abuses occurring in the Philippines under President Duterte's administration.

The resolution is a critical development in bringing justice to thousands of victims of President Duterte's so-called war-on-drugs killings and other human rights abuses that are occurring. It demonstrates that the international community will no longer remain silent on the ongoing violations and crimes of international law committed as part of police operations throughout the Philippines. The decision by the UN Human Rights Council is also a welcome move in support of domestic agencies, such as human rights and civil society organisations in the Philippines, who have been demanding accountability for the extrajudicial executions. It also provides hope and justice, particularly for the many families of victims.

The national Commission on Human Rights in the Philippines, an institution independent of government, has expressed its willingness to cooperate with the Duterte administration and the UN to support independent, impartial and effective investigation into the alleged crimes under international law and into other serious human rights violations in the context of the war on drugs. Human rights commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit believes international stakeholders would not have needed to intervene had the government been open to such investigations in the first place, citing the lack of response from police and other agencies in requests for details about the reported killings of thousands of suspects. The Commission on Human Rights has urged its own government to live up to its commitments and responsibilities as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, calling for the government to show both the international community and the people of the Philippines that it is willing and able to hold perpetrators to account, to protect all human rights defenders, to stop the killings and to end the impunity.

By the way, the Philippines police have recently—presumably acting on the wishes of the President—charged the vice-president, three opposition senators, four Catholic bishops and other religious leaders, alleging sedition and the obstruction of justice, a new low by any reasonable standard and certainly a threat to democracy. Australia's support for the UN resolution sends a very clear message that we condemn the ongoing extrajudicial killings and the circumvention of the rule of law. It also demonstrates our determination, on the UN Human Rights Council, to stand against abusive nations to demand justice and accountability.

Australia should continue to use its voice as a member of the council to ensure human rights violators are held accountable for their actions, regardless of their rank or position. I echo Senator de Lima's appeal to the international community 'to make the resolution work to continue to shrink the space for impunity in the Philippines and to widen the windows of justice for the victims of mass murder and other abuses against the people of the Philippines'. We must not waver in our strong belief that democracy and respect for the rule of law are the fundamental cornerstones for the advancement of human rights. We should continue to actively work with our partners to continue to take real action to promote the protection of human rights within our sphere of influence.