Universal Periodic Review


First session meeting highlights

11 April 2008 (afternoon)
For use of information media; not an official record

The Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review Working Group reviewed the fulfillment of human rights obligations by the Philippines this afternoon, during which 40 Council members and observers raised a number of issues pertaining to the human rights situation in the country.

This morning, the Working Group also adopted, ad referendum, the reports on Indonesia and Finland, following the review of the countries on Wednesday, 9 April.

Presenting the national report of the Philippines was EDUARDO R. ERMITA, Executive Secretary and Chairman of the Presidential Human Rights Committee, who said the Government and the people of the Philippines placed the highest priority on the promotion and protection of the right of all Filipinos to live their lives free from fear and free to achieve full potential. The Philippines had experienced significant human rights abuses in the country during both times of war and during a ling period of dictatorship. The Philippines had created and nurtured vital institutions whose mandates were crucial to the promotion and protection of human rights. Years before the Paris Principles for national human rights institutions were agreed upon, the 1987 Philippine Constitution created an independent commission on human rights. The Government, under the Arroyo administration, aimed to further strengthen this key national human rights institution through both executive and legislative measures. The Philippines Constitution also created the Office of the Ombudsman, as an independent body to protect the people from governmental corruption and abuse with its prosecutorial and investigative powers. In the Executive Branch, the Presidential Human Rights Committee (PHRC) monitored and coordinated all the human rights compliance of the administration as a strategy for good and effective governance. The Philippine Government was dedicated to ever improving its human rights record by further strengthening its institutions, mainstreaming human rights, and educating all Filipinos to foster a culture of human rights and peace. Moreover, the Armed Forces of the Philippines and Philippine national police organizations, as well as the National Bureau of Investigation, had their respective human rights offices. At the grassroots level, there were also Human Rights Action Centres.

The Philippine Government’s human rights advocacy and programmes remained ever responsive to the demands of vulnerable sectors, the Minister added. The Philippines pursued a 25-year National Strategic Framework for Plan Development for Children, form 2000 to 2005, to build a child-sensitive and child-friendly society. Children in conflict with the law were protected under the Juvenile Justice and Welfare Act of 2006 and due to improved health and sanitation, the Philippines had achieved respectable improvements in lowering child mortality. Insofar as women were concerned, the Philippines now ranked 77th among 177 countries in terms of the gender-related Development Trends Index. Filipino women now enjoyed higher life expectancy, adult literacy, and gross enrollment ratio than their male counterparts. Indigenous people were protected under the landmark Indigenous Peoples Rights Act. About 10% of Filipinos of employment age were migrant workers in many countries around the world. The Philippine Government had, over the year, established mechanisms to address illegal recruitment and trafficking of persons.

The Philippine Government’s commitment to human rights remained paramount even in the midst of active insurgencies and other threats to national security. In fact, human rights promotion and protection was a key feature in the peace process currently being pursued, he added. The Armed Forces of the Philippines had official polices and guidelines on the treatment of children in armed conflict and had incorporated provisions on human rights and international humanitarian law in the conduct of its internal security operations. Furthermore, the Philippines pursued a comprehensive counter-terrorism strategy integrating security, law enforcement, development and human rights. This was in keeping with the United Nations Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy. There had been violence associated with insurgencies and with terrorism. For its part, the Philippine Government had taken firm steps to halt such violence, including extra-judicial killings. It was noted that last November, President Arroyo created an Inter-agency Task Force Against Political Violence mandated to investigate, prosecute and punish all political violence. The judiciary had also promulgated new rules to enhance human rights protection. In conclusion, the head of delegation noted that the Philippine Government recognized that human rights promotion and protection was best pursued within proactive partnership networks that brought together domestic and international cooperation.

During the three-hour interactive discussion delegations noted a number of positive achievements of the State under review. These included violence against women; efforts in attaining the Millennium Development Goals; combating corruption, solving unexplained killings and prosecuting perpetrators; the work of the Government towards eliminating extreme poverty; efforts to respect the rights of vulnerable groups; the improvement of health plans; progress made in the implementation of human rights in the wake of natural disasters; the role of the Philippines in promoting interfaith dialogue at the international level; the respect for religion or belief; efforts to protect the rights of migrant workers; the respect for social security rights; the establishment of the special court in the Armed Forces; the Philippines’ accession to the seven core United Nations human rights instruments; the abolition of the death penalty by the Philippines; the cooperation with the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings; and efforts to strengthen the Witness Protection Programme.

Issues and questions raised by the Working Group, comprised of the 47 members of the Council, and Observers participating in the interactive discussion related to human rights training for security forces; the steps the Government was taking to address the issue of violence against women; the main challenges and difficulties in reducing trafficking in women and children; child recruitment by insurgent rebel groups and the results of reintegration programmes; the situation of street children; experiences on coordinating human rights issues through the presidential human rights committee; human rights action centres and community-based monitoring systems; the circumstances explaining why a high proportion of women were involved in immigration flows, how the country was addressing this issue and mitigating the adverse effects on children; extending an invitation to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council; measures taken to protect the rights of indigenous persons and cooperation between the Government and NGOs in this regard; and anti-corruption measures and efforts to ensure that officials were brought to justice.

Additional information was sought with regard to community programmes and poverty indicators; experiences in achieving a high-level of women’s empowerment and women in decision-making positions; efforts to further mitigate the inequalities between men and women, particularly in the labor market; addressing the challenges in achieving the full respect of women’s rights in the Philippines; the features of the national bill related to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women; promoting gender-based discrimination and promoting gender equality; steps to integrate human rights education in the school system and in training of priority groups in the context of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights; the experiences of the country in the area of the justifiability of economic, social and cultural rights; the respect of the rights of minorities; and forced disappearances. A number of delegations also raised the issue of the rights of migrants and the negative effects of the “brain drain”. Other speakers called on the delegation of the Philippines to provide best practices on their efforts to combat human trafficking.

Several delegations posed questions with regard to extrajudicial killings, in view of reported increasing cases. In particular, some delegations asked what efforts the Government was taking to implement the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, who reported on killings of human rights activists, human rights defenders, journalists in the country.

A number of delegations also posed specific recommendations. These included: To develop a gender perspective approach in acts of violence against women and continue to infuse a gender perspective in the judiciary in dealing with such cases; to ensure fullest implementation of the announced reforms in the area of human rights; that members of the Philippine security forces were made aware of human rights and the work of human rights defenders; to extend an invitation to all Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council and, in particular, to enable the visit of the Special Rapporteur on torture; to sign and ratify the Convention on Enforced and Involuntary Disappearances; to sign and ratify the Optional Protocol to the Convention Against Torture, and to report regularly to the Committee Against Torture; to extend the State’s law on the abolition of capital punishment; to step up its efforts to investigate extrajudicial killings and strengthen its Witness Protection Programme; to further the State policy to combat trafficking; to take additional steps to criminalize torture; to step up efforts to continue to meet the basic needs of poor persons in the Philippines; for the National Plan of Action on Human Rights to take into account the recommendations of the human rights treaty bodies and the Special Procedures; and to harmonize conventional laws with traditional practices in view of implementation of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women.

The delegation of the Philippines provided responses to a series of questions posed to it during the course of the discussion. The delegation responded to a series of written questions submitted ahead of time. With regard to the freedom of assembly, the delegation stated that the Constitution guaranteed the freedom of assembly and expression and the Freedom of Assembly Act had been imposed as Constitutional. The police held briefings in advance of demonstrations and local governments throughout the country had set up freedom parks where such demonstrations could be held.

Regarding children in detention, the Juvenile and Justice Welfare Act prohibited cruel and inhumane treatment against children in conflict with the law. Any child deprived of liberty was also separated from adult inmates. There were currently five juvenile detention centers in the country and 11 regional rehabilitation centers. Educational activities were also being undertaken providing skills training. On violence against children, it was noted that there were bills already filed in confers that prohibited corporal punishment and child exploitation. The Philippines had instituted various measures and good practices dealing with, among other things, child abuse, discrimination and child labor. The Government licensed and accredited child caring institutions and had developed various programmes, including a programme to protect children from child offenders. Shelters for children in need of special protection were also in place.

With regard to extrajudicial killings, it was recalled that the president necessitated the enactment of the Witness Protection Programme. It was also recalled that the President had issued an order leading to the creation of a task force on the elimination on political violence; 27 cases had since been solved.

On migrant workers issues, the delegation said the brain drain issue was counterbalanced by matching skills through integration programmes. Workers’ empowerment schemes were also in place for overseas workers. Social security agreements had been signed with several countries, the delegation added, the purpose of which was to provide the same benefit to the workers serving overseas to the countries of destination. Concerning Human rights defenders, the delegation said the Government of the Philippines had been very supportive of the work of the human rights defenders and had supported the mandate of the Special Rapporteur on human rights defenders. Human rights defenders were consulted in policy-making bodies and were sought as partners in government programmes. As of last Friday, the Philippine Government supported the EU proposal to extend assistance to human rights groups in the Philippines.

Concerning women’s rights issues, the delegation noted that the Supreme Court of the Philippines had established a court on women’s issues and gender sensitive handling of violence against women cases was ongoing. A movement was also instituted called men against violence against women. The target of 30% women in government had not yet been achieved. Women accounted for more than 70% of migrant workers in the country. The Philippines had passed a very comprehensive trafficking in person’s acts and had created an inter-agency council against trafficking which regularly monitored the implementation of the law.

Regarding country visits, over the past years the Philippines had deemed it imperative to strengthen human rights, and had this enhanced the President; Human Rights Committee. The Government had always cooperated with the United Nations Special Procedures. Responding to another question, a member of the delegation affirmed that human rights education had already been mainstreamed through the Philippine education system and the Government had created a human rights education plan. One hundred and one teaching exemplars on human rights education for elementary and high school use had also been developed. In dealing with cases of corruption, the Office of the Ombudsman had been strengthened to deal with such cases and, as a result, conviction rates had been more successful. In 2006, 143 government officials were dismissed from service on charges of corruption and military officials had also received administrative sanctions.

Members States taking the floor during the interactive discussion were Pakistan, India, China, Canada, Slovenia, Cuba, Italy, France, Japan, Guatemala, Egypt, the Republic of Korea, the Russian Federation, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Cameroon, Azerbaijan, the Netherlands, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Observer States participating in the discussion were New Zealand, Singapore, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, Turkey, the Holy See, Thailand, Norway, Syria, Tunisia, Latvia, the Sudan, Australia, Belarus, the United States, Palestine and Iran.

The 30-person delegation of the Philippines consisted of representatives of the Presidential Human Rights Committee of the Philippines, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of Justice, the Department of Social Welfare and Development, the Department of Interior and Local Government, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Department of National Defence, the Department of Foreign Affairs, the Office of the National plan of action for children, the Department of Labor and Employment, the National Economic Development Authority, the National Commission on the Role of Filipino Women, the Council for the Welfare of Children, the National Commission on Indigenous People, the Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process, the Presidential Human Rights Committee of the Philippines, the Supreme Court of the Philippines and the Permanent Mission of the Philippines to the United Nations Office at Geneva.

The three Council members serving as rapporteurs – troika - for the review of the Philippines are Malaysia, Mali and Germany.

In accordance with its institution-building package, the three documents on which State reviews should be based are information prepared by the State concerned, which could be presented either orally or in writing; information contained in the reports of treaty bodies and Special Procedures, to be compiled in a report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR); and information provided by other relevant stakeholders to the UPR including non-governmental organizations, national human rights institutions, human rights defenders, academic institutions and research institutes, regional organizations, as well as civil society representatives, also to be summarized by OHCHR in a separate document. The reports on the Philippines can be found here.

The UPR Working Group is scheduled to adopt the report of the Philippines on Tuesday, 15 April.

When the UPR Working Group continues its work on Monday, 14 April at 9:00 a.m. it will review the fulfillment of human rights obligations by Algeria after which it is scheduled to adopt the report of the United Kingdom.

Additional information on the Universal Periodic Review mechanism can be located at the UPR webpage - http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/UPR/Pages/UPRMain.aspx.

To access the webcast for the UPR session please visit http://www.un.org/webcast/unhrc/index.asp