The United Nations and the Philippine government have come to blows over the treatment of human rights investigators, with a UN chief saying that the country’s president, Rodrigo Duterte, needs a “psychiatric evaluation”.
The Philippine government angered the UN after one of its human rights investigators was included on a list of 600 people declared to be communist terrorists.
In a petition filed in a Manila court last month, the department of justice listed more than 600 people it wanted to be categorised as rebels for “using acts of terror” to undermine the government.
Among them was the UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, for allegedly being a senior member of the Maoist rebel group.
The petition, made public on Friday, would give the government power to closely monitor the movements and limit the resources of anyone on the list.
Tauli-Corpuz denounced the government for branding her a terrorist and putting her life at risk, calling the allegations “baseless, malicious and irresponsible”.
The UN said the accusations were an act of retaliation for Tauli-Corpuz’s recent criticism of the attacks on and killings of indigenous Lumad people in the Philippines.
It said the claims violated the UN convention on human rights.
Condemning the actions of Duterte’s government, the UN high commissioner for human rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said: “He needs to submit himself to some sort of psychiatric examination. This kind of comment is unacceptable.
These attacks cannot go unanswered, the UN human rights council must take a position.”
His concerns were echoed by Michel Forst, the UN’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.
“The attack against the special rapporteur is taking place in the context of widespread extrajudicial executions and ongoing attacks against voices who are critical of the current government, including human rights defenders. The president has himself publicly intimidated special rapporteurs,” he said, calling on the government to drop the “unfounded accusations”.
There is little love lost between Duterte and the UN. Last year, Duterte called the organisation “stupid” and “shit” and threatened to leave over its condemnation of his bloody war on drugs.
The “government hit list”, as it was called by Human Rights Watch, appears to stem from Duterte’s signed proclamation that the Communist party of the Philippines (CPP), and its armed wing, the New People’s Army, are terrorist groups, following the collapse of peace negotiations in December.
Since then, Duterte has been vicious in his attacks on the communists and his recent controversial comments to “shoot women in the vagina” were directed at female communist rebel fighters.
While their numbers are relatively small, there still continue to be frequent reports of communists killing security forces across the Philippines, which Duterte has vowed to end.
Others included in the government petition are four former priests, the environmental campaigner Sherwin de Vera, the CPP founder, Jose Maria Sison, and 18 leaders of the party.
In a statement, Sison said Duterte was launching an anti-communist witch-hunt “to silence all his critics and opposition to his cruel and corrupt regime, and in order to realise completely his fascist dictatorship”.
Sison, who lives in the Netherlands, was Duterte’s mentor at university though the pair are now bitter enemies. “It is Duterte who is truly the No 1 terrorist in the Philippines,” he said.