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Fight for Human Rights: A Call for Global Solidarity and Citizen Action

The celebration this year of the International Human Rights Day comes at a time when the world faces an extraordinarily long list of crises with no or little political will to confront them. We see this in various places, such as Syria, Yemen, Libya, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, and the different parts of Central America.

In two (2) countries in Southeast Asia, governments are involved in attacks against their own civilian population that undeniably amount to crimes against humanity.

In Myanmar, tens of thousands from the Rohingya minority were forced to leave their homes after the military blocked humanitarian access as they burned hundreds of houses, used unnecessary or excessive force and subjected people to torture and other degrading treatment, including rape and other sexual violence against women.

Here in the Philippines, acting on instructions, instigations and incitements from no less than the President, the police and vigilantes have killed more than ten thousands of alleged drug offenders in a spate of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) under the so-called war on drugs, which is actually a war against our people, especially the poor.

In the face of these mass atrocities, governments and inter-government bodies appear to be either ineffective, inadequate or simply passive. In the Philippine situation, the International Criminal Court (ICC), through its prosecutor, has yet to decide whether there is basis to proceed to a preliminary examination of the cases. At the UN, we have yet to see concrete measures coming from the Security Council, the Human Rights Council, or the General Assembly, beyond what happened last September during the Universal Periodic Review of the Philippine human rights record with the joint statement of concern from 40 states led by Iceland, and similar language spoken by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. Domestically, the President and his Foreign Affairs Secretary have been consistently blocking the proposal to invite the UN Special Rapporteur for extrajudicial killings to do a country visit. Worse, there are no serious investigations and prosecutions being done on the killings.

Meanwhile, with the return of the police to the drug war, Duterte is boasting that there will be an increase in the body count.

The killings must stop. But, how?

We call on governments all over the world to make good their commitments to actualize the promise under Section 28 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights:

“Everyone is entitled to a social and international order in which the rights and freedoms �can be fully realized”

In the Philippine situation, in particular, we urge that:

a. The General Assembly to pass a resolution condemning the extrajudicial killings, urging its immediate stoppage, and recommending the prompt and effective investigation and prosecution of perpetrators and masterminds;

b. The Human Rights Council to establish an independent international commission of inquiry or an investigative commission to ferret out the truth and identify accountabilities for the mass murders;

c. The International Criminal Court, through the Prosecutor, to commence the preliminary examination of the cases of EJKs; and

d. The Philippine government to finally extend the invitation to the UN Special Rapporteur on summary and extralegal executions.

More than the government actions, however, and in light also of the growing absence of human rights leadership in this highly troubled world, there is an urgency now for international solidarity and mobilization of public support to uphold, defend and protect human rights. We cannot remain silent and depend passively on governments. We the people ourselves have to act – act with urgency and in solidarity with each other. With political leaders themselves demonizing their own people, and even instigating the widespread attacks against them, the need for all of us to stand up for the basic values of human dignity and equality of everyone everywhere has now become extremely urgent. We can take our bearing from the words of Eleanor Roosevelt, chair of the committee that drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, who said that:

“Where, after all, do universal rights begin? In small places, close to home–so close and so small they cannot be seen on any maps of the world… unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”

In the Philippines, concerted citizen actions can take the form of those adopted by various multi-sectoral formations like Tindig Pilipinas, Movement Against Tyranny (MAT), Laban ng Masa, and groups like i-Defend, FLAG, Centerlaw, CBCP, and IBP. We should support and build on such initiatives like the Commission on Human Rights’ idea of a consultative caucus, and Cardinal Tagle’s call for a multi-sectoral dialogue.

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