The United Nations Human Rights Committee completed its fourth periodic review of the compliance of the Government of the Philippines with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) in Geneva this week. The International Gay and Lesbian Human Rights Commission (IGLHRC), TLF Share, and a coalition of 39 Filipino human rights organizations and 13 LGBT activists submitted a report, entitled Human Rights Violations on the Basis of Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity, and Homosexuality in the Philippines, to the Committee. Representatives Ging Cristobal and Jonas Bagaspresented their findings at the session. The government delegation consisted of 26 representatives of diverse branches of government and was headed by Department of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima.
During the interactive dialogue with the State, members of the Human Rights Committee expressed concern about reports of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender rights violations received from NGOs.
- The Committee responded to the State Party report that the anti-discrimination bill is still pending before Congress. One member indicated that, “For the Covenant, a comprehensive law would include sexual orientation,” and asked, “When can we expect that this bill will be enacted?”
- The Committee noted that while homosexuality is not criminalized in the Philippines, seemingly neutral laws are applied with discriminatory effect. Specifically, one Committee member noted with concern the discriminatory application of the ‘grave scandal’ law of the Revised Penal Code.
- The Committee noted “overwhelming” evidence about homophobic and transphobic attitudes within the military and police. One Committee member asked, “What are you doing to combat these prejudices in society which constitute de facto impediments to the full enjoyment of the rights of the LGBT community – the full enjoyment of their right to their full identity?”
- The Committee noted with concern that the decriminalization of all vagrancy with the exception of vagrancy involving prostitution has the effect of “singling out sex workers.”
In addition, the Committee lauded the government for the landmark Supreme Court ruling in the case of Ang LADLAD LGBT political party, with one member describing it as “extraordinary” and offered “congratulations on a very important decision” in international law.
The State responded to many if not all of the LGBT-specific questions by the Committee.
- Jose Midas Marquez, Administrator for the Supreme Court of the Philippines, responded to the question of the ‘grave scandal’ law of the Revised Penal Code, by stating that the law, “applies to all people, not just homosexuals, and it applies to everyone who offends decency…” and skirting concerns that the law had been used arbitrarily to penalize LGBT persons.
- Justice Secretary de Lima pointed to Congress for the lack of progress on the anti-discrimination bill, stating, “Since the anti-discrimination bill, among others, is still pending in Congress, we cannot do anything to expedite the approval of the bill since it is with the legislature.”
- The most significant response came from the head of delegation herself, when Justice Secretary de Lima stated, “We would be happy to take the lead in advocating for LGBT rights in the region.”
LGBT rights advocates from the Philippines responded to the session.
“While waiting for the enactment of an anti-discrimination legislation that has been pending in Congress for the past twelve years, the President of the Philippines has the executive power to create a policy to protect LGBT persons from discrimination,” said Ging Cristobal, Project Coordinator for Asia and the Pacific Islands at IGLHRC. “It is about time that the Philippines government act on its promise to protect and promote human rights of all Filipinos.”
“It was refreshing to hear that the government is an ally of equal rights,” said Jonas Bagas, Director of TLF Share. “But the first step it must take is to remove the gap between its international commitments and reality. We look forward to engaging the government to eliminate all forms of stigma and discrimination experienced by LGBTs.”
The Shadow Report submitted to the UN Human Rights Committee documenting rights violations and the government’s non-compliance with the ICCPR included police abuse; prohibition on the change of sex in the official documents of transgender people; the use of vague laws to penalize LGBT persons; and the failure to enact laws that protect LGBT persons from discrimination, hate crimes, and hate speech. The report also proposed recommendations to bring the State into compliance with the principles of the ICCPR, which include the immediate passage of a federal law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity and the full legal recognition of transgender identities.
The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) is an international treaty that outlines a set of fundamental rights guaranteed to all individuals regardless of race, color, sex, language, religion, opinion, nation, property, birth or other status. The ICCPR was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1966 and entered into force in 1976. So far, 166 states, including the Philippines, are parties to the Covenant. The Human Rights Committee is responsible for monitoring the implementation of the treaty by States Parties. The 18-member committee also has the authority to interpret the treaty through issuing general comments.
The ICCPR requires all state parties to submit Periodic Reports about the implementation of the treaty’s principles to the United Nations Human Rights Committee. Based on the state reports and information gathered by Committee experts, the Committee develops a list of questions (List of Issues) regarding the status of civil and political rights in that country. State Parties often provide a written response to those questions ahead of the official review session of the state’s compliance with the ICCPR. The Committee also accepts reports from non-governmental organizations regarding the human rights situation in that country. These reports are known as Shadow Reports.
Based on the State report, the State written answers to the List of Issues, shadow reports, the State presentation to the Committee, and the interactive dialogue between the State and the Committee, the Committee releases it’s Concluding Observations with a list of concerns and recommendations based on the State’s compliance with it’s treaty obligations. The State will then formally acknowledge which of the Committee recommendations and concerns it will abide by. The Concluding Observations and the State response are powerful tools for domestic advocates seeking to advance human rights and governmental accountability.
The Committee is scheduled to meet for Concluding Observations on November 1.