Duterte hits critics for ‘weaponizing’ human rights in first speech at UN General Assembly

<i>Photo: Malacanang RTVM</i>
Photo: Malacanang RTVM

In his first-ever speech before the United Nations (UN) General Assembly, President Rodrigo Duterte said he will continue to protect human rights from the “scourge” of terrorism and criminality, and in the same breath blasted critics who he said were passing themselves off as rights advocates to discredit the government.

“A number of interest groups have weaponized human rights: some well-meaning, others ill-intentioned,” Duterte said midway through his pre-recorded speech from Malacañang aired past midnight Manila time.

He said that these groups have tried to “discredit the functioning institutions and mechanisms of a democratic country” and his administration which “in its last two years still enjoys the same widespread approval and support.”

“These detractors pass themselves off as human rights advocates while preying on the most vulnerable humans, even using children as soldiers or human shields in encounters…They hide their misdeeds under the blanket of human rights but the blood oozes through,” Duterte said.

While he didn’t name any group in particular, the president has brought up communist rebel insurgency in the country multiple times in his weekly broadcasts.

Read: Communist leader says Duterte using rebels as diversion for mishandling pandemic

Duterte also defended the controversial Anti-Terrorism law, which drew criticisms locally and abroad over its broad definition of “terrorists,” stirring fears that it will be used as a tool to quash enemies of the government. Duterte signed it into law on July 3 despite mounting  protests against it, including from UN Human Rights Chief Michelle Bachelet who had earlier urged the president to “refrain” from signing the law which detains suspected terrorists for up 24 days sans warrant or due process.

Despite this, Duterte said that the law was “crucial” to stamp out terrorism and that its enactment strictly adhered to UN rules.

“The Marawi siege, where foreign terrorist fighters took part, taught us that an effective legal framework is crucial. Our 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act shores up the legal framework by focusing on both terrorism and the usual reckless response to it. Its enactment was done pursuant to our commitment and the strict adherence to the relevant Security Council resolutions and the UN Global Counter-Terrorism Strategy,’ the president said.

He asked for an “open dialogue and constructive engagement with the United Nations” but said that “this must be done in full respect of the principles of objectivity, non-interference, non-selectivity and genuine dialogue” with his administration.

Read: UN human rights council orders report on Duterte drug war; PH gov’t calls it a ‘travesty’

It’s no secret that the president doesn’t exactly share a warm relationship with the UN. Bachelet had called out the Duterte government several times over alleged human rights abuses in the country, last year ordering the president to submit a report in aid of an investigation into his bloody drug war. Duterte’s officials have been on the defense, with Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. calling the order a “travesty” and a “disrespect” to the country.

Duterte’s campaign on illegal drugs has killed at least 5,810 narco suspects since 2016 according to government figures.

Earlier this month, the Human Rights Watch sounded the alarm on the number of Filipinos killed in police-led drug raids, which they said increased by half during the lockdown. This number was denied by a high-ranking Philippine police officer, who said that the drug-war related killings merely increased by 5%.

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