UN rights expert bewails House vote on CHR budget

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Agnes Callamard, UN Special Repporteur
Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial Summary or Arbitrary Executions at Drug Issues, speaks at a policy forum at University of the Philippines. REUTERS photograph

MANILA, Philippines – The United Nations’ special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Agnes Callamard, expressed disappointment at the House of Representatives’ vote for P1,000 budget – around 20 US dollars – for the Commission on Human Rights.

Human Rights Watch was more blunt, calling the 119-32 vote “part of the Duterte administration’s attempt to prevent independent institutions to check its abuses, particularly in the context of the brutal drug war that has claimed the lives of thousands, including dozens of children.”

Callamard said if Congress “is looking for public money being wasted, damaging and hurting the Philippines,” it was better off setting its sights on President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, which he has admitted “has failed to curtail addiction rates” even as it has created “a climate of fear and insecurity, feeding impunity, and undermining the constitutional fabrics of the country.”

“The people of the Philippines deserve a strong independent human rights institution able to monitor, investigate, and report on human rights violations, protect victims and their families, and hold the powerful to account for their abuses of international human rights standards,” the UN expert said.

House endorses P1,000 CHR budget to bicam

The CHR, she stressed, “is a crucial institution for the Philippines: for human rights protection, the rule of law, accountability.”

“It cannot deliver on its mandate without an appropriate budget, particularly at a time when it is confronted with allegations of massive human rights violations throughout the country, and including, but not only, in the context of the ill-advised , destructive ‘war on drugs’,” she added.

For his part, Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy director for Asia, said the House vote “would deal a big blow against accountability for human rights violations” in the country, especially if the Senate concurs.

However, several senators have indicated they would restore the CHR’s budget.

“While the CHR’s performance as a constitutional body may not have been fully satisfactory to many Filipinos, its mandate is important in combatting human rights abuses. Instead of defunding it, Congress should increase its resources and ensure that it fulfills that mandate.” Kine said.