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A worsening human rights situation

"The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world, now available in more than 500 languages."

 

It is not a good time for human rights in many parts of the world. That is sad to say on Human Rights Day, which we observe every year on 10 December—the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted, in 1948, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In 2018, we commemorate the 70th anniversary of the adoption of this Declaration, which has been described as “a milestone document that proclaimed the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being—regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.” According to the United Nations website, the UDHR is the most translated document in the world, now available in more than 500 languages. Drafted by representatives of diverse legal and cultural backgrounds from all regions of the world, the declaration proclaims universal values and establishes the equal dignity and worth of every person.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile, in her statement for this year’s Human Rights Day, believes that “the human rights ideal, laid down in this Declaration, has been one of the most constructive advances of ideas in human history—as well as one of the most successful,” but she acknowledges that this progress is under threat today. According to Bachelet:

“We are born ‘free and equal,’ but millions of people on this planet do not stay free and equal. Their dignity is trampled and their rights are violated on a daily basis.

In many countries, the fundamental recognition that all human beings are equal, and have inherent rights, is under attack. The institutions so painstakingly set up by States to achieve common solutions to common problems are being undermined. 

And the comprehensive web of international, regional and national laws and treaties that gave teeth to the vision of the Universal Declaration is also being chipped away by governments and politicians increasingly focused on narrow, nationalist interests.  

We all need to stand up more energetically for the rights it showed us everyone should have—not just ourselves, but all our fellow human beings—and which we are at constant risk of eroding through our own, and our leaders’ forgetfulness, neglect or wanton disregard.”

The Philippines is no exception. We have entered into a dangerous phase for human rights when no less than the President calls for the organization of death squads, when the law is manipulated to attack opposition politicians like Senator Trillanes or media personalities and organizations like Maria Ressa and Rappler, when defenders of human rights like Attorney Ben Ramos are assassinated or harassed as in the Talaingod 18, or when the Departments of Education and Social Welfare and Development are being weaponized against indigenous peoples as is happening in many places in Mindanao.

I write this column from the great city of Krakow, home of the kings of Poland, where not so very far away, in Auschwitz, the worst human rights atrocities were inflicted during World War II on the Jews of Poland, Germany, and Eastern Europe. But from this city also came Saint Pope John Paul II who consistently taught that “it is in this dignity of the person that human rights find their immediate source. And it is respect for this dignity that gives birth to their effective protection.”

In Krakow can also be visited the factory owned by Oskar Schindler, from where he saved 1200 Jewish lives.

According to the Talmud, he who saves one life saves the entire world. Schindler saved 1200 lives but because many of them had children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren later on, he saved thousands more and continue to save new generations being born from those lines now.

As we speak, there are people like Schindler in the Philippines and elsewhere, those who save lives in standing up for human rights. In the 2019 elections, we can even elect some of them to be senators—certainly Chel Diokno, Neri Colmenares, Erin Tañada, and Samira Gutoc are known first of all as human rights defenders.

And there will be justice and accountability. The recent announcement of the International Criminal Court Prosecutor that it continues to investigate the crimes against humanity in the country is reassuring.  Martin Luther King is definitely right: “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Last Friday, participants of the conference “The Real Score: The Real Score: Upholding Life, Dignity and Justice Amidst Duterte’s War on Drugs” issued its conference statement entitled “Life, dignity and justice, not tyranny and death! I make mine these words:

“We, families of victims of extrajudicial killings, religious and lay persons of different faith traditions, human rights advocates, and concerned citizens from various walks of life, gathered in conference to uphold the sanctity of life, the dignity of every person, and justice for all men and women, hereby state the following:

We recognize the gravity and prevalence of drug addiction as a social problem and health issue  that are  rooted in mass poverty, marginalization,  inadequate awareness and hopelessness.

We believe that any solution to the illegal drug problem should,  be intentionally for the   rehabilitation of those who have fallen prey to drug addiction and misuse. This includes providing better social conditions for them and their families to assist them in extricating themselves from poverty and injustice. Such efforts, like socio-economic interventions, should respect of the rights and dignity of everyone involved.

In this light, we are appalled by the continuing killings and human rights atrocities being committed in the name of President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called war on drugs. It is unthinkable that almost 5,000 drug suspects have been killed in police anti-drug operations, and 16,000 others in yet unknown circumstances, since the start of this war. These are human beings whose rights to life and due process were violated with impunity by killers who seem to be above or beyond the law. Such victims often leave behind surviving families and relatives who are traumatized, stigmatized and suffer the difficult loss of a bread winner.

We have learned that such brutal and purely police approaches to the drug problem have been tried in other countries and have miserably failed. President Duterte has also clearly bungled his campaign promise to rid the country of illegal drugs in three to six months; he has even admitted that he will not be able to solve the drug problem within his term. And yet, he has vowed that the campaign will be as “relentless and chilling” as when it started. 

Meanwhile, drugs continue to proliferate, as it appears to be business as usual for drug lords, smugglers and their protectors in government.  With sufficient drug rehabilitation facilities sorely lacking, little to nothing has been done to reintegrate former drug users or small-time dealers.  Similarly, livelihood opportunities for the poor, as well as projects and programs to provide jobs and overcome poverty, are sorely lacking.

Worse, the President has announced his plan to organize a “Duterte Death Squad” to extend the same bloody approach to suspected rebels and political dissenters, possibly leading to even more killings and human rights violations.

We cannot stand idly in the midst of such wanton desecration of human life, dignity and justice. We therefore pledge to:

ORGANIZE and support the victims of the drug war and their families for them to rise and lead better lives, free from the scourge of illegal drugs.

DEMAND that President Duterte--including his government and law enforcers--stop committing, encouraging or condoning extrajudicial killings, whether in anti-crime or internal security operations. All cases of extrajudicial killings should be seriously investigated and prosecuted, starting with those committed by suspected state or state-backed agents.  

WORK with all stakeholders in addressing the illegal drug menace in an effective and comprehensive manner, specially addressing health and socio-economic aspects of the problem.

ACT to end the killings and other forms of tyranny and to uphold human rights, dignity and justice in all our endeavors.”

Join us and together let us defeat those who would take away our human rights.

Topics: United Nations General Assembly , Human Rights Day , Michelle Bachelet , Rodrigo Duterte
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