Thursday, May 15, 2008

Dissatisfaction with the CHR chair appointment

Human rights groups express dissatisfaction with the choice of Atty. Leila de Lima as new Commission on Human Rights chairperson. The gist is: Atty. de Lima is better known as an election lawyer and has no track record as a human rights advocate. Her appointment is viewed as a political one.

From one of the mailing lists I subscribe to:

(Bangkok and Manila, 15 May 2008) FORUM-ASIA and the Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) express deep disappointment over the selection process of the Commission of Human Rights (CHR) Chairperson.

According to the news reports received today, Philippine President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has appointed Ms. Leila de Lima as chairperson of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) of the Philippines. Ms De Lima is replacing the outgoing Chairperson Purificacion Quisumbing, whose term expired last week.

The sudden news of the appointment has caused serious concerns about the appointment process of the highest officials of the Philippines’ independent human rights body. This is particularly important in the context of criticism of the Philippine human rights record in the past few years, particularly for the high number of extrajudicial executions and disappearances.

The ongoing appointment process has been characterised by a lack of transparency in terms of who the candidates for CHR chairperson and its commissioners will be. We fear that it is becoming a very politicised process, which the government has used to salvage its poor reputation and track record.

We see the appointment as a contradictory action to the Paris Principles, the international standard. Under the composition and guarantees of independence and pluralism section, it mentions that “the composition [shall involve persons] involved in the protection and promotion of human rights”.

We note that Ms De Lima is well known as an election lawyer than for practice in the human rights field. We hope that subsequent appointments would advance the independence and effectiveness of the CHR in protecting and promoting human rights in the Philippines.

We therefore would like to call on the Philippines government to:

• Ensure that the appointment of the remaining three commissioners be transparent, including to ensure that they have to possess an adequate human rights background and experiences, especially to ensure that there must be the inclusion of representatives of “non-governmental organisations responsible for human rights ... trade unions, concerned social and professional organisations”
• Reform the appointment processes of the CHR to be more transparent, particularly for an open and participatory process among relevant stakeholders.
• Ensure the needed infrastructure for the commission to conduct its activities independently from government interference and effectively including the adequate funding.

The Philippines government in 2007 pledged “to strengthen the Commission on Human Rights [as] an independent constitutional body responsible of […] monitoring of the human rights situation in the country and investigation of cases of human rights violations”. As an elected member of the UN Human Rights Council, the Philippines must fulfil this pledge by making sure that the CHR will be fully independent and can function, and should not instead weaken the body by installing a person without adequate human rights experience.

It is most important for the CHR to be headed by efficient chairpersons and commissioners with human rights experience given that the CHR as one of the four existing National Human Rights Institutions will have to play a key role in pushing for the establishment of an efficient ASEAN human rights body, under the ASEAN Charter.

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