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Philippines Dithers on Human Rights in Climate Change Talks

Duterte’s Abysmal Rights Record No Excuse for Backpedaling

A veteran Philippine climate change talks negotiator has warned his country’s delegation to next week’s international climate change talks in Morocco to “not talk about human rights at all.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte delivers a speech at Philippines Economic Forum in Tokyo, Japan October 26, 2016. © 2016 Reuters

Antonio La Viña, who was a Philippines’ delegation member at the 2015 climate talks in Paris, justified that advice on the basis that President Rodrigo Duterte “has a very different perspective on human rights, [so] it doesn't make sense to contradict him internationally.”

Whatever pro-rights statements Duterte may have uttered at one time or another, his short time in office has been an utter disaster for the basic rights of Filipinos. Exhibit A is his “war on drugs,” in which nearly 5,000 Filipinos have been gunned down since June 2016, with little apparent thought to due process or the rule of law.

Extending that disregard to the environmental realm would be unfortunate, as the previous administration’s rights advocacy had been strong. The Philippine delegation at the Paris conference championed human rights – including the rights of indigenous peoples, women and girls, people with disabilities, and migrants and refugees – as a key component of any agreements to address climate change. The Paris Agreement went into effect today.

Instead of back-pedaling from that position, the Philippine delegation would be wise to heed the words yesterday from the United Nations high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, that “Climate change is a threat to us all and to future generations, and to the enjoyment of human rights now and in the years ahead.”

Backtracking would also fly in the face of a call by UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights and the Environment John Knox for climate change agreement negotiators to urgently begin the “hard work of safeguarding the environment and human rights.” Knox also urged negotiators to ensure that what is put in place to mitigate climate change “do[es] not run rough-shod over the human rights of indigenous peoples and other communities that are most directly affected by them.”

Duterte’s abysmal rights record should not stop the Philippines from continuing its support of rights in the environmental realm. This includes bringing a rights perspective to the climate change negotiations.

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