[Reflection] Reaping the fruits of labor

Chair Loretta Ann Rosales of the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines speaks on the compensation of Martial Law human rights victims. Photo by allvoices.com

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines: Its Legitimacy and Performance

Efforts have been made in recent years at the international level to establish clear criteria or at least minimum standards to measure the effectiveness of the existing national human rights institutions (NHRIs). The normative standards and legal foundations for such institutions were developed in 1991. This set of guidelines is called the Paris Principles.

But despite having this set of guidelines, there is still a general recognition that the establishment of NHRIs is a new field in human rights work particularly on the side of the governments. In fact, until now many States-members of the United Nations have yet to set up their own NHRIs not only because they lack adequate knowledge on how it works but mainly of fear that their performances will be measured on such aspect. It only shows that there is still a dire need to deepen our understanding on the nature and character of NHRIs in order to make these special bodies really become effective promotional and protection mechanisms for human rights.

This will also refute the notion of some governments that creating them is in itself a good human rights performance. But legal foundation does not automatically assume public legitimacy as one of my colleagues commented in my previous blog article on the same topic that, “its legitimacy and credibility have to be won”.

The standards set by the Paris Principles were quite clear. NHRIs should first be established by law with clear mandate and functions. But that does not end there. They must also have some form of independence not only structurally but politically. Why? Because they need to earn and retain the public trust. The public perception of NHRI is very important benchmark of its effectiveness. In the first place, NHRIs are supposedly formed to monitor the state’s human rights obligations to its own people whose needs they are intended to serve. It is therefore essential to assess whether vulnerable sectors or groups who are prone to abuses are being protected by NHRIs.

This generally speaks about the functions of NHRIs or on whether they have adequate powers to do their mandate, their accessibility to the public, their operational efficiency and their ability to respond to the needs of the victims and their next of kin and to curb human rights violations.

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines is said to be one of the most dynamic NHRIs in Asia but still others are of the opinion that its works still fall short of the international standards. Although, It has been performing most of the responsibilities expected from NHRI such as reporting to the government on human rights matters; ensuring harmonization of national laws with international human rights standards; encouraging ratification of international human rights instruments; contributing to states’ reports to UN treaty bodies and committees; co-operating with international, regional and other national human rights institutions; assisting in human rights education; publicizing and promoting human rights. But these are driven more by its institutional obligations rather than working on its transformative role.

There are many aspects of its nature and works that need to be reviewed but let me focus my points of analysis on areas that I believe are problematic.

The Paris Principles require NHRIs to have some level of independence from government to maintain its objectivity and impartiality. One aspect that needs serious consideration in assessing the CHRP is the nomination and selection of its Commissioners. So far, the appointment process is completely at the discretion of the President. It is not participative and transparent. It is no different from other political appointments except that there is no public hearing or interview of nominees. It often comes as a surprise when a new commissioner is appointed. My question is not on the qualifications of the nominees but on the process itself. There is no doubt on my mind that the appointment of the previous and current Chairperson of the CHRP is probably the best decision made by the executive. But this doesn’t stop the public in wondering that the appointment is based mainly on political connections. Some will still argue that the appointment is just mere formality and has no effect on the performance of the CHRP as shown by the previous and current leadership. Others will also say that its organizational and fiscal autonomy have really helped to make it work independently with less if not a complete lack of intervention from the government.

However, the CHRP must also realize that they are a collegial body and that they are more than the sum of all the Commissioners. They must act collectively in order to become a high functioning and effective organization. One concrete step to do this is to strengthen their regional offices’ capacities to respond effectively and promptly. It also needs to take a look on its concept of the Barangay Human Rights Action Offices. While the idea is quite unique and promising, but they are still poorly trained, supported and directed.

The CHRP’s public accountability remains a demand rather than an established mechanism. Although, efforts are being made at the regional level particularly the Asian NGOs Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI). The public has little awareness and knowledge if not totally at bay on the CHRP’s work beyond the publication of its annual reports. Despite of the existing and ongoing civil society engagement with the CHRP, there is still a big gap in public participation specifically in the grassroots level.

Everyone will perhaps agree that the links between civil society organizations and NHRI particularly one which is established in a situation where serious human rights violations persist, cooperation can create a political space within which civil society can operate and help NHRI do its work. However, such collaboration should be a two-way process. Human rights NGOs are usually the main source of knowledge, expertise and public legitimacy that can be of benefit to a national institution. But it would become wary if not downright hostile if the NHRI will act as an apologist of the government.

The Paris Principles provide the obligation to NHRI to promote human rights through public education. The CHRP human rights program has the legal and institutional support through various Executive Orders and statutory laws. But there seems to be no evaluation procedure to measure its impact and effectiveness. CHRP must understand that public awareness-raising is just one aspect of human rights education. It should be internalized and observed by those who undergo the program especially the security sectors. The real valuable of their work on education, training, reviews of laws, study of international instruments must be felt by the public at large.

I know that it is not an easy task to evaluate the CHRP’s effectiveness and it may not be fair to measure its performance in relation to all the other institutions and mechanisms that are essential to the promotion and protection of human rights.

I am not saying that I am an expert on this subject. I even admit that my engagement with the CHRP is limited and my exposure to their works is minimal. My opinion here is merely based only on my personal perceptions and observations and my analysis is drawn from various studies and reports.

But as a human rights advocate and a concerned citizen, my only purpose in writing this is not to discredit anybody nor put the CHRP in a bad light but to open a venue for a national discourse aims at making human rights a reality on the ground which the CHRP should be leading the way. After all, it is what we sow that we reap.


4 thoughts on “[Reflection] Reaping the fruits of labor

  1. Best Pinoy TV May 30, 2013 / 4:35 pm

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