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Canadian government must act on human rights situation in the Philippines, NUPGE urges

“Canada must honour its commitments to human rights for all and take immediate steps to intervene in this situation.” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President

Ottawa (21 July 2020) — The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) joins 26 other organizations in urging the Canadian government to speak up and take action on the serious human rights situation in the Philippines. The letter, sent to Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne, was signed by human rights, labour, and faith-based organizations in Canada.

“The Duterte government's attacks on human rights and erosion of democracy are unacceptable, and Canada must not stay silent,” said Larry Brown, NUPGE President. “Canada must honour its commitments to human rights for all and take immediate steps to intervene in this situation.”

Human rights violations on the rise

The letter raises concern with the human rights situation, which has worsened under the Duterte government. In addition to continued rights violations related to the drug war, there has been an increase in attacks on rights defenders and journalists.

The situation has only been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic, during which the government has used emergency measures to further erode democracy and civic spaces. This includes widespread, arbitrary arrests and the July 10th shutdown of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest news network, after it criticized the Duterte government.

Human rights experts sound the alarm

The letter notes that in June, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, presented her report on the situation in the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council. The report outlines a number of human rights violations that stem from laws and policies pertaining to national security and public order. Furthermore, a group of UN human rights experts have condemned the human rights situation in the Philippines and called for UN intervention.

The Council of Global Unions, representing 200 million workers around the world, has also spoken out against the attacks on democratic institutions and the suppression of workers' rights in the Philippines.

In their letter to Minister Champagne, the Canadian signatories wrote: “We are writing to you to request that your office support the UN High Commissioner’s report, and that you aid in the establishment of independent mechanisms to monitor and investigate human rights violations.”

Anti-terrorism bill likely to worsen attacks, suppress political dissent

Poised to make matters worse is the new anti-terror law.

As the letter notes, “Families of victims of the war on drugs, peasant and indigenous communities, trade unionists, lawyers, faith-based formations, human rights defenders and the political opposition in the Philippines have raised deep concern about dangerous implications the Act will have on the worsening climate of impunity under President Duterte.” According to Bachelet’s report, the law will “weaken human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant.”

Canadian government must act

In addition to endorsing Bachelet’s report and the creation of independent mechanisms, the signatories call on Champagne to:

  • Suspend all support for and cooperation with the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) and the Philippine National Police (PNP), including training, and redirect Canada’s assistance towards strengthening the capacity of human rights defenders and organizations
  • Suspend the sale and transfer of all military and defence equipment to the Philippine government and invoke the Special Economic Measures Act, which can be used to prohibit the transfer or trade of goods to a specific country because of its human rights record
  • Respond to the UN human rights experts’ recommendation that Member States initiate, whenever possible, governmental sanctions and criminal prosecution against individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited, or failed to prevent human rights abuses.

How Canadians can take action

KAIROS Canada has outlined ways that individual Canadians can take action on the situation in the Philippines, such as writing to your Member of Parliament or raising awareness on social media. Details for how you can take part can be found online.