Axis of Shame
Thoroughly obscured by the rage and bile the Duterte administration has directed at the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) for its vote on a resolution urging an investigation into the human rights situation in the Philippines is the ironic fact that, just nine months ago, the country actually lobbied to retain its seat in the council—by vowing to champion human rights.
In October 2018, campaigning for another term in the UN body from 2019 to 2021, Ambassador Evan Garcia, the Philippine Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Geneva, was quick to point out that the Philippines was among the UNHRC’s original members when it was formed in 2006. But more important than that was “the high importance the Philippines places upon the issue of human rights, being a core issue of the UN and a right that is fundamental to all,” said Garcia. “Hence, our strong desire to continue to participate and further contribute to the work of the HRC.”
More: “The Philippines is a party to eight of the nine core human rights instruments and views the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as a landmark document of equal importance to the UN Charter in terms of significance and impact… The respect for human rights is a core value and principle of the Philippines, and we will continue to abide by our commitments and champion human rights as we strive to serve in the council for the term 2019-2021.”
The Philippines got its wish, and was reelected to a seat in the council. Now, of course, the Duterte administration is furious at the UNHRC for the Iceland-led resolution—when the Philippines did promise before the international community, not so long ago, to “abide by our commitments and champion human rights.”
That the Duterte administration has no qualms summarily repudiating that promise is evident not only in the dire human rights situation in the Philippines, but also in the actions it seems all too willing to take on behalf of countries it considers its friends—China, for instance. Still at the UNHRC, the Philippines recently joined a group of 37 countries that signed and submitted to the council a most remarkable document: a letter praising China’s “remarkable human rights record.”
The document was in response to an earlier letter sent to the UN body by 22 mainly European countries that urged China to halt “the arbitrary detention and forced reeducation” of at least a million Uighurs or ethnic Muslims in harsh labor camps, which the authoritarian nation had described as “vocational centers.” Satellite photos provided by international monitors document how these camps have been increasing in size since 2018; a recent BBC report captured the totalitarian nature of the schools, when reporter John Sudworth asked an official, who denied that the facilities were prisons, what would happen if any “student” wanted to leave. “We’ve never encountered that before but we’d proactively guide them,” said the official.
Human rights workers in China are also subject to “arbitrary detention, imprisonment, and enforced disappearance,” according to Human Rights Watch, which noted in its January 2019 report that the level of repression under Chinese leader Xi Jinping has been “the worst since the violent suppression of the Tiananmen Square democracy movement of 1989.” The control is all-encompassing; “civil society groups, the media, the internet, and religious and academic institutions suffer tight restrictions,” wrote Simon Tisdall in The Guardian.
Despite that grim record, the pro-China letter to the UNHRC only had glowing words for Beijing’s actions. “We note with appreciation that human rights are respected and protected in China in the process of counterterrorism and de-radicalization,” it said. The letter was signed by, among others, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Russia, North Korea, Cuba, Venezuela, Egypt, Algeria, United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Nigeria, Angola, Togo, Tajikistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe, Bahrain, Oman, Kuwait, Syria, Myanmar—and the Philippines.
Read those names again. That is what the Philippines, the erstwhile champion of human rights, has now done—align itself with some of the world’s most notorious human rights violators, what Italian sociologist Massimo Introvigne has called an “axis of shame.” That is how far the Duterte administration is willing to go to stay on the good side of Beijing—trash its own country’s historic libertarian values and slavishly endorse China’s “remarkable human rights record.” No doubt Master Xi is mighty pleased.
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