On human rights and impunity
Our country is very much the focus of global concern and attention on the twin issues of human rights and impunity.
The United Nations defines Human Rights as “universal legal guarantees protecting individuals and groups against actions which interfere with fundamental freedoms and human dignity.” They are inalienable and inherent in each person. The State, or, to be more specific, the government is the primary duty-holder in respecting and promoting human rights and fulfilling the mandates towards their full realization.
For the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, impunity means “the impossibility, de jure or de facto, of bringing the perpetrators of violations to account — whether in criminal, civil, administrative or disciplinary proceedings — since they are not subject to any inquiry that might lead to their being accused, arrested, tried and, if found guilty, sentenced to appropriate penalties, and to making reparations to their victims.”
“The ‘de facto’ impunity refers to the actual functioning of the State institutions to ensure that perpetrators of crimes will be punished, and that victims of crime will receive a compensation or remedy; and the “the jure” impunity, meaning the existence of laws and authorities to hold accountable to perpetrators of crimes and other violations, impose a sanction and redressing the harm caused to victims.” (http://www.udlap.mx/cesij/files/IGI-2017_eng.pdf)
Coming so close to the various controversies that have hounded us especially on extra-judicial killings, the accountability of the alleged perpetrators, the weak prosecution and justice systems, and recently the highly questionable de-funding of the constitutionally created Commission on Human Rights, is it surprising that we have just been identified as having the highest impunity index under the Global Impunity Index (GII) 2017?
The result of the study is alarming and a long-overdue wake-up call. Definitely, decision-makers and citizens alike should address the gaps and instill measures to strengthen our weak institutions, vigorously promote the Rule of Law, and ensure transparency and accountability in governance — before it is too late, before we regress to become a failed state like Haiti.
Human rights and environmental rights are two peas in a pod. If we allow the continuing plunder of our oceans and forests and life support systems, we become a co-conspirator in the destruction of their lives and livelihoods and their families and the ecosystems upon which they solely rely for their survival.
Advocates and residents in our communities have seen up close the shortcuts and turning a blind eye on the glaring non-implementation of our otherwise-progressive environmental laws. This erodes the trust of our people on the government and those mandated to perform their mandates.
The much-revered Senator Jose Diokno captured the essence of human rights by saying that “No cause is more worthy than the cause of human rights… they are what makes a man human. Deny them and you deny man’s humanity.”
As citizens, it is our shared duty to learn, promote and protect human rights through human rights education.
We are a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, also known collectively as the International Bill of Human Rights. The philosophy behind the Universal Declaration is based on this philosophy: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood.”
Human rights are protected no less by our Constitution. It unconditionally declares that “The State values the dignity of every human person and guarantees full respect for human rights.”
There is a whole chapter on the Bill of Rights apart from integrating our sacred right to a healthful and balanced ecology into our Constitution.
With the wounds of the era of the Martial Law dictatorship still fresh in the minds of our framers, a Chapter on Social Justice and Human Rights was integrated as part of our Constitution.
To emphasize its significance, Congress is mandated to “give highest priority to the enactment of measures that protect and enhance the right of all the people to human dignity…”
The House of Representatives’ decision to reduce the annual budget of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) for 2018 to a measly P1,000 was not only ill-advised, it was contrary to the Constitution. It was obviously meant to stifle the Commission’s operations and the performance of its mandates to protect the inalienable human rights of each person.
Our independent tribunals, offices and commissions such as the Supreme Court, the Ombudsman and the CHR are assured fiscal autonomy and clearly intended to be removed from the clutches of politics. The Constitution provides that “The approved annual appropriations of the Commission shall be automatically and regularly released.”
We agree with the prognosis of the GII study that “The rule of law and the improvement of socioeconomic equality are two pillars that can break the chains of impunity and underdevelopment in all countries. In a democracy, all laws must be observed and those who break the laws must be held accountable, according to the gravity of their actions.”
The failure of a society to prioritize the compliance of laws leads to terrible distortions and structural problems that impede development. Democratic countries that have created strong security and justice institutions can also achieve higher levels of economic and social wellbeing.”
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