Image Source: Asia Sentinel
June 2018
REGION: East Asia and the Pacific

In “Human Rights Norm Diffusion in Southeast Asia: Roles of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Ending Extrajudicial Killings in the Philippines,” Stanati Netipatalachoochote, Aurelia Colombi Ciacchi, and Ronald Holzhacker examine the strategies by which civil society organizations (CSOs) can hold governments accountable for human rights violations, as well as provide a current example of the role CSOs play in the Philippine “war on drugs,” the state-directed zero-tolerance response to drug use and crime. The authors define CSOs as “non-state, non-profit entities such as non-governmental organizations (NGOs), charities, trusts, foundations, and advocacy groups.”

CSOs make up large, sometimes global networks, allowing them to have the ear of many formally recognized international bodies, making them effective in drawing attention to, lobbying against, and spreading information about human rights violations. Their success is due in part to their ability to call upon regional and international counterparts in order to apply pressure to violating states who do not allow their citizens or civil society organizations to formally advocate for themselves. The most studied means by which CSOs expose human rights violations is known as the “boomerang” model. In this model, when requests for human rights investigations or compliance with international human rights standards are ignored by a violating state, CSOs reach out transnationally to organizations with similar goals. These organizations will convey the complaints to their own governments and international forums, who eventually will prompt sanctions against or investigations into the violating state’s actions.

The authors examine how CSOs in the Philippine context have already initiated a “boomerang” of their own, calling attention to the 12,000 deaths in the country since the beginning of President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” campaign. In this campaign, officers in some cases have been directed to carry out summary executions of individuals suspected of using or dealing drugs. These summary executions bypass the due process rights guaranteed by the Constitution of the Philippines and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Under the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the Philippines is home to 52 CSOs accredited by the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR), a small coalition of which have started to mobilize in the country since these extrajudicial killings began.

CSOs will mobilize to put norm-violating countries on the international agenda by involving multilateral organizations. After attempting to deal nationally with the violations and facing direct threats from Duterte, the coalition reached out to regional counterparts, who proceeded to collaborate with and bring together “375 CSOs worldwide, led by the International Drug Policy Consortium,” who then sought the backing of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB). UNODC and the INCB took immediate action by condemning the enforcement of Duterte’s policies and encouraging the country to adopt “appropriate legal safeguards in line with international standards and norms….”

The work done by CSOs thus far has already resulted in economic and diplomatic consequences for the Philippine government, as the United States and the European Union and its member-states have issued sanctions on the country’s exports. Despite these measures, Duterte continues to uphold his policies as law. The AICHR, the human rights body in the region, has remained unable to act due to limitations which prevent it from both receiving complaints and adjudicating human rights violations, as well as its dependence on the member states, who did not vest the AICHR with the authority to hold these countries accountable for such violations.

The authors then turn to the use by CSOs of the International Criminal Court (ICC) for continued pursuit of justice in the Philippines. CSOs have previously used the ICC as a means to adjudicate human rights offenses, as the ICC has jurisdiction over the States Parties to the Rome Statute, which include the Philippines. Despite Duterte’s stated intention to withdraw the Philippines from the Rome Statute, “a State’s withdrawal does not in any way prejudice ‘the continued consideration of any matter which was already under consideration by the Court prior to the date on which the withdrawal became effective’… Therefore, acts committed while the Philippines was a member of the Rome Statute can still be considered by the ICC, despite the Philippines’ withdrawal becoming effective later.” Additionally, CSOs and individuals are able to provide information regarding alleged crimes to the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC. After an April 2017 complaint against Duterte and other senior officials was submitted to the ICC by the former chairperson of the Southeast Asia National Human Rights Institutions Forum, a coalition of 93 CSOs addressed a December 2017 letter to ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda urging her to open an investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity being perpetrated in the Philippines. In February 2018, Bensouda formally “open[ed] preliminary examinations into the situation in the Philippines.”

CSOs were able to bring the Philippines under the international spotlight, first by way of inviting other organizations to call upon their host governments and larger international bodies, and second by way of reaching out to an institution with the authority and the means to address these human rights violations.


NOTE: This summary is produced by the Rule of Law Collaborative, not by the original author(s).

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