Government News Analysis

Prince of darkness

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (photo), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein (photo), the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights – internationally, human-rights’ top man – has revealed a “darker and more dangerous world”. And, according to him, within that world is the Philippines – one of 40 such dark and dangerous lands. He mentioned them by name in his address to the 36th session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

The Philippines, however, has plenty of company in the prince’s bad books – not least among fellow members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean). Also singled out for criticism were Myanmar, Vietnam, and Cambodia. Asean states, Indonesia, Thailand, and Laos – favourite targets for a UN tongue-lashing – got a pass this time in Zeid’s report. But they shouldn’t feel left out; they’ll doubtless soon be back in the UN’s bad books.

It was the usual UN hit job as far as the Philippines was concerned – cherry-picked items, subjectively appraised with little sure detail and no attempt at perspective.

Basically, it was a meaningless report that did little more than regurgitate the same denigrating verbiage to keep the fires under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his administration well stoked. As usual then, heavy on smoke and heat, light on real combustible material.

Here’s a brief summary of the prince’s report on the Philippines. The familiar UN alarms were sounded: ‘extrajudicial killings’ under the Duterte presidency’s War on Drugs was there of course; concern was expressed for the wellbeing of Duterte’s arch critic, Senator Leila de Lima – currently in police custody on drugs-profiteering charges.

The UN likes to look after its own and de Lima, a former justice secretary and one-time head of the Philippine Commission on Human Rights, is certainly one of the UN’s own. She’s used the UN channels many times to attack the president.

Efforts to reintroduce the death penalty “threaten yet another step back” for the Philippines said Zeid. “I am also shocked by President Duterte’s threat to bomb schools for indigenous children in the southern Philippines, which he said were teaching children to rebel against the government,” the prince continued.

Nothing new there, but all – in effect – are allegations against the president; so let’s look at these in a more objective way.

The “thousands of” extrajudicial killings (or EJKs) Zeid refers to are based on hearsay and inflated reports by largely anti-Duterte mainstream media which also fail to substantiate their figures. Furthermore, so far, there’s been no corroborated evidence to show a government-sponsored EJK programme – despite De Lima’s best efforts prior to her arrest and her tirade of allegations since.

Zeid also refers to “the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings” – yet he neglects to mention that the Philippine National Police is carrying out thousands of investigations into all murders and homicides in the country, not just those related to the drugs war.

He also makes no reference to the fact that annual killings in the Philippines are generally of the order of 13,000. There were 13,005 killings in 2014 and 12,478 in 2015, for example. These facts, and many more, were made available to the UN Human Rights Council back in May.

Commenting later on Zeid’s address, the Philippines’ most senior diplomat, Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, suggested that the prince would have been better advised to refer first to the report which the Philippines had provided to the UN.

“The Commissioner’s report would have been balanced and accurate had he considered the information that we provided, instead of just relying on uncorroborated information,” Cayetano said. As it was Zeid “severely mischaracterized” the Philippines’ human-rights record in Cayetano’s view.

Moving on, the prince said he remains “concerned about the case of Senator de Lima” – though, apparently not concerned that a leading human-rights advocate may have been moonlighting as a drugs queen. If that’s ever proved, that level of hypocrisy would be too difficult for even the UN to condone. Furthermore, Zeid is not privy to the investigations into de Lima by the police and the judiciary. In short, he has little or no actual information on which to make any reliable assessment.

Certainly, she’s innocent until she’s been proven guilty in a court of law; but she’s been arrested and charged with serious crimes and the UN has no place to ascribe its own pre-judgments to her case. If it does that here, why doesn’t it do it to favour the innocence of public figures arrested and detained elsewhere.

For example, are Zeid and the UN concerned about Luis Gustavo Moreno Rivera, Colombia’s top ant-corruption prosecutor who was arrested in the country’s capital, Bogotá, at the end of June on extortion and bribery charges. We believe not.

Also odd was that in his condemnation of the Myanmar Government over its handling of the Rohingya – the Muslim majority that’s being forced from their lands – he makes no criticism of one-time human-rights pin-up girl, Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s foreign affairs minister who’s stood quietly by as some 350,000 Rohingya have fled for their lives to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Meanwhile, as a sovereign state – and a democratic one at that – the Philippines is well within its rights to reintroduce capital punishment; the UN might not like it but the Philippines doesn’t require UN approval to do so.

The death penalty was suspended in the Philippines in the 1987 Constitution under President Corazon Aquino; it was re-imposed by President Fidel V. Ramos in 1994 following an upsurge in crime (though nothing like the levels of the past 10 years), and was suspended again in 2006 by President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo.

With the waves of rebellion – Islamist and communist – in the country, along with high rates of violent crime, members within the legislative branch of government have seen fit to seek its reintroduction once more.

This, then, is an internal matter for the Philippines to decide as it is for every nation – such as the US where the UN is headquartered, which does impose the death penalty for certain crimes; or the prince’s native Jordan where capital punishment was reintroduced in 2014 following a nine-year moratorium. Since then there have been 122 death sentences handed down by Jordanian courts; there have been 15 executions carried out there so far this year.

Finally, Duterte’s threat to bomb certain schools on the southern island of Mindanao wasn’t a threat, it was a promise – one he made to the Maoist-Marxist-Leninist New People’s Army (NPA), the violent military wing of the Communist Party of the Philippines. The NPA operates these schools as recruitment centres; among its fighting ranks are child soldiers drawn from these resources – something again Prince Zeid failed to mention.

Furthermore, Duterte has no intention of bombing these schools while they’re being occupied by children – though that’s what the UN human-right lobby and its clones of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch would like the world to believe as they look to paint the president as a war criminal. Duterte has no intention of killing children.

Here’s what he actually said on the subject. Addressing the communist rebels he stated this: “I didn’t say that I’ll bomb those [schools] if there are people [there] … I didn’t say I’ll kill the children. Far from it actually, I’ll free the children from perdition because they’ll learn to be like you … I have every reason to stop it because you are producing another generation of haters. Don’t fool me, you teach nothing there but socialism and killings … you are teaching the children to rebel against government”.

Moreover, these NPA-run schools operate without government licences. Communist-indoctrination classes and recruitment programmes aside, they don’t follow the national schools curriculum in any part and they’re illegal.

But here’s the real problem. The UN sees itself as the de facto government of each of these countries; it’s partly the fact that they don’t comply with its wishes – it’s demands in effect – that the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights regards them as “dark and dangerous”. In UN eyes these are all recalcitrant states.

Basically, the UN doesn’t like national governments; for one thing, their claims to sovereignty make it awkward to fully control them. National cultures are another issue it has problems with; they interfere with its programme to implement a one-size-fits-all UN culture – a form of global hemogenisation; countries standarised to look, act and be the same.

There are many “dark and dangerous” places in this world – and no one would deny that some of them can be found in the Philippines. They’re in the country’s many poverty-ridden drugs-ravaged slums for example; in corruption-strangled quarters of government and local government units and in the corporate world there; in the homes of children whose parents pimp them for sex, real-time or via the Internet, for hard cash; in places where women and young girls walk into the clutches of violent rapists.

But the irony – and it’s lost or more likely ignored by the human-rights battle groups that seek Duterte’s destruction – is that this president and his law enforcement are fully committed to tackle all those social ills and make the Philippines a place of light and safety.

In a speech to the Philippine Military Academy in February, Duterte said this: “What I desire for the Philippines is a prosperous country that includes everyone – a peace-loving citizenry and people with different beliefs who chose to get along with one another … We will always uphold the sanctity of the common good as the highest good”.

This is not one of Duterte’s better-known quotes – it’s not about raping someone, or killing spaced-out junkies, or piling up the body bags in the streets, so the media and the human-rights groups don’t use it. They can’t; it doesn’t show him in a bad light. Put simply, it doesn’t show him as dangerous and in a dark place.

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