MANILA — Department of Justice (DOJ) Sec. Menardo Guevarra said discussions between the country and the United Nations resident coordinator for the UN Joint Program on Human Rights (UNJP) ended last May 31.
“The program document outlines the objectives, strategies, and targets of the UNJP towards credible and measurable outcomes and concrete impact on the ground, especially for vulnerable groups,” Guevarra said on the Facebook page last June 13.
“We are presently in the process of finalizing the administrative requirements for the formal signing of this program document at the soonest opportunity,” he added.
In a report by GMA News, the Un Human Rights Council (UNHRC) offered to provide the Philippines technical cooperation and capacity-building for the promotion and protection of human rights in the country last October.
The UNHRC, in a resolution, said “it requested the High Commissioner and the Office of the High Commissioner for the assistance to further improve the situation of human rights in the Philippines and to provide support for the country in its continued fulfillment of its international human rights obligations and commitments.’
The assistance will cover “inter alia, domestic investigative and accountability measures, data gathering on alleged police violations, civic space and engagement with civil society and the Commission on Human Rights, national mechanism for reporting and follow-up, counter-terrorism legislation, and human rights-based approaches to drug control.”
UNHRC has also urged member states, relevant UN agencies and other stakeholders “to encourage and support the technical cooperation between the Philippine government and the Office of the High Commissioner with a view to improving the situation of human rights in the country in response to the government’s requests for technical assistance and capacity-building.”
According to the report, Iceland and the Philippines introduced the resolution.
In another report by GMA News, the UNJP seeks to support the Philippine government in bolstering its accountability mechanisms, the administration of justice, as well as investigations and data collection on claims of human rights violations.
Under the three-year program, the UN will back evidence-based treatment and care services for people who use drugs as part of its aim to promote a better human rights-based approach to curbing the country’s drug problem.
To address the needs of these people in their recovery and reintegration to society, the program will authorize national and local authorities, as well as teachers, guidance counsellors, families, and communities in crafting and carrying out appropriate interventions.
Guevarra noted that the program also aims to further bolster the Philippine National Police (PNP) in tracking, evaluating, analyzing and processing of claims of human rights violations.
“This initiative is crucial to address not only the demands for justice of victims of abuses; it is also vital in the realization of the objective of the PNP leadership to cleanse its ranks and further professionalize the institution,” he said.
The report also noted that the UNJP will include programs “designed to enhance victim and witness protection systems, and to improve the investigative and prosecutorial functions of the Administrative Order (AO) 35 mechanism, which investigates cases of gross violations of human rights and violations of humanitarian law.”
Guevarra said the AO 35 mechanism is currently probing up to 1,500 complaints of alleged violations of humanitarian law “mostly committed by communist terrorist groups.”
“A strengthened capacity to investigate and prosecute human rights and humanitarian law cases, coupled with greater cooperation from victims and witnesses before, during and after trial, should result in improved rates of conviction against perpetrators,” he said.
NATIONAL REFERRAL PATHWAY
According to the GMA News report, the program will also establish a national referral pathway for human rights cases “to assist complainants in accessing appropriate and existing domestic mechanisms and thereby strengthen accountability.”
“It is also to be emphasized that under the UNJP, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) and civil society are, and will continue to be, actively engaged as part of an inclusive process,” Guevarra said.
“Presently, data and information on specific human rights cases are being made available between the AO 35 mechanism and the CHR within the context of a data sharing agreement to further help our respective offices in the discharge of our investigative and prosecutorial mandate.”
Last March, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the CHR signed a memorandum of agreement (MOA) to “foster close coordination and address gaps in the human rights situation in the country.”
CHR Chairman Gascon said the MOA will strengthen the two agencies’ efforts to “protect the rights of the Filipino people.”
Under the new agreement, the agencies agreed to participate in dialogues, focus group discussions and other forms of engagements and cooperation over human rights issues.
“We in the AFP will always endeavor to seek the most effective ways to address the gaps, in particular on the observance of Human Rights of our organization. I am certain that by fostering close coordination, which involves a mutual exchange of knowledge on the intricacies and the proper interpretation of human rights and the best ways to promote them, there is surely much to learn from our counterparts from the CHR,” AFP chief Lt. Gen. Cirilito Sobejana said in a statement.