Pandemic makes gathering data on rights abuses harder – Investigate PH
MANILA, Philippines — The COVID-19 pandemic has made it difficult to collect information about human rights abuses in the Philippines, international rights watchdog Investigate PH said on Tuesday.
The group, which is composed of various global civil society organizations and religious groups, launched its first report on Tuesday which they hope would nudge the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) into probing the state of human rights in the Philippines.
However, Investigate PH coordinator and chair Peter Murphy said that it
But it would be a difficult task, according to Peter Murphy, chair of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) and Investigate PH coordinator.
“We’ve had to cope with this, in the first, this initial report as well, so none of us could travel, from the international community to the Philippines, to directly meet people and talk to them,” Murphy said.
“It’s actually the reality for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights project as well. S o we relied on domestic-based witness coordination teams and lawyers, and paralegals who collated a lot of the documents,” he went on.
“We also interviewed people either on Zoom or by phone, and this is going to be the way we have to do the next report as well, considering the pandemic situation,” he added.
Investigate PH commissioner Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson, who is also general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, said that another issue relevant to rights abuses was how repression intensified under quarantine protocols imposed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ferguson said that part of the findings of the 198-page report — which had been submitted to UNHRC — was that quarantine protocols had been used to cover for repressive action.
“The report itself also points to how the COVID restrictions have been used to cover state repression. And I just want to make that connection which wasn’t in the question, but is definitely part of the findings of the report,” he said.
“So there are two issues about the COVID issue, one is the practical obstacles to carry out the investigations, and the other is the way which public health measures have been used to cover up repressive actions,” he added.
Fellow Investigate PH commissioner Dr. Agnes Abuom echoed the same sentiments.
“In many ways, because of lack of interaction, the culture of silencing people, of undermining if not destroying the democratic gains and the peace gains that had been made by the Filipino people. It comes very easy for these state mechanisms because they use the pandemic regulations and rules to actually isolate people and to continue their war on the people,” Abuom explained.
“I think it is so critical that while we look at the difficulty of carrying out assessments and getting voices, to actually locate the fact that the pandemic has exacerbated the isolation, the repression of people, and therefore unable to even share their pain and sorrow across the networks,” she added.
Investigate PH was formed in January 2021 after the UNHRC did not heed calls to probe rights abuses in the Philippines. What the UNHRC did instead was to adopt a resolution compelling member-states to extend technical assistance to the country as it conducts its own investigations.
Since the UNHRC issued its resolution, the government has created a task force looking into allegations of extrajudicial killings in the conduct of the Duterte administration’s war against illegal drugs.
However, Investigate PH has stressed that the country’s current systems and remedies for rights abuses were not adequate — with one commissioner saying that the government had done nothing about the reports of abuses.
This belief is shared with some local organizations’ stand — that the task force was set up only for show.
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