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Duterte brings the #Philippines back to the Dark Ages says EU report

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It comes as little surprise: Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s (pictured) bloody crackdown on drugs significantly worsened the human-rights situation across his country in the latter half of 2016, according to a recent EU report. While the Philippines was indeed no stranger to extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations prior to Duterte taking office last June, the slaughter of thousands of suspected dealers and addicts during his on-going 'war on drugs' and the possible reintroduction of the death penalty contributed to a marked decline in respect for the right to life, due process, and rule of law over the final six months of last year.  

Duterte's rise to power was aided in no small part by his vocal support for the extrajudicial execution of drug peddlers, addicts, and other criminals, but any hope that he might soften his position once in office has long since evaporated. In addition to regularly celebrating news of the murder of suspected criminals at the hands of police or tacitly state-sanctioned death squads, Duterte has most recently admitted to killing someone as a teenager and has said he would like to emulate Hitler by exterminating the country’s estimated three million drug users.

But while Duterte’s hard-line anti-drugs policy and brutal rhetoric rightfully make his administration a serious cause for concern for Brussels and world leaders alike, the Philippines is far from unique in Southeast Asia when it comes to deteriorating human rights. Over the course of the past 12 months, only three members of the 10-stong Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) have not seen a rise in human rights abuses and a decline of democratic freedoms. On top of the growing disregard for due process in the Philippines, other nations in the region have demonstrated an increasing propensity to tolerate – if not encourage – racism and discrimination against minority groups.

It’s now well-known that in Myanmar, the country’s once-exalted leader Aung San Suu Kyi is under fire for her failure to halt the persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority, which has resulted in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of refugees and been described by international observers as amounting to genocide. But this is far from the only instance of discrimination. Only a matter of days ago, Human Rights Watch called on the new governor of the Indonesian capital Jakarta to uphold the rights of vulnerable economic, sexual, and religious communities in the city, who the group claims are regularly targeted by local police on account of their backgrounds.

In neighbouring Vietnam, children born as the result of rapes carried out by South Korean military personnel during the Vietnam War, known as the Lai Dai Han, are among a number of minority groups routinely shunned on account of their perceived lack of racial purity. Seoul has never recognized its crimes, nor has it provided restitution to survivors. The affair has prompting foreign politicians to take an interest in the affair, with former British foreign secretary Jack Straw calling for an international investigation into the matter, and Louisiana State Senator Troy Carter and other community leaders holding an event to commemorate the violence on the eve of President Trump’s visit to Asia.

Governments in the region have also been accelerating efforts to silence both domestic and international criticism of the deteriorating human rights situation in their countries, implementing tighter controls over free speech and cracking down on dissent. In September, the Cambodian government forced the closure of one of the country’s leading English-language newspapers, claiming it had failed to pay a multi-million dollar tax bill. The owners of the Cambodia Daily said the government’s campaign against it was politically motivated, while the US State Department condemned the tax demand as “exorbitant” and “biased”. It is no coincidence that over its 17-year history, the paper had campaigned against government corruption and championed the rights of poor villagers, who are often persecuted by the nation’s acquisitive oligarchy.

The demise of the paper was no isolated incident. It came in the wake of the banning of a number of independent radio stations across Cambodia, which were taken off the air the previous month as part of an apparent nationwide crackdown on independent media. Cambodia is scheduled to next go to polls again in July 2018 amid dismal hopes for a fair voting process.

Meanwhile, China’s growing influence in the region has done little to ameliorate the situation, having ignored or even tacitly encouraged the steady erosion of democracy, decline in human rights, and suppression of free speech across Southeast Asia in recent years. What’s more, in a sharp departure from the US’ vocal leadership on such issues, the Trump administration has been notably silent on the growth in human rights abuses, with the president failing to call out leaders of abusive regimes on his Asia tour. In fact, Trump made no mention of the deteriorating human rights situation during his visit to the Philippines, and both he and Duterte even ignored shouted questions about Manila’s crackdown on drugs. While White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated that human rights “briefly came up”, Duterte’s spokesperson denied this was the case.

Either way, Trump – who praised Duterte in May for doing an “unbelievable job” – was hardly expected to start laying into him now, much to the disappointment among human rights groups and dissidents in the region.

As China’s influence grows in Southeast Asia and as the U.S. retreats, it is now vital that the EU does more to address the deteriorating human rights situation across the region. Calling the problem out is not enough. Brussels must now apply serious diplomatic pressure to those Southeast Asian regimes that have for some time been taking on far too many qualities of full-blown dictatorships.

Economy

Issuance of green bonds will strengthen the international role of the euro

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Eurogroup ministers discussed the international role of the euro (15 February), following the publication of the European Commission's communication of (19 January), ‘The European economic and financial system: fostering strength and resilience’.

President of the Eurogroup, Paschal Donohoe said: “The aim is to reduce our dependence on other currencies, and to strengthen our autonomy in various situations. At the same time, increased international use of our currency also implies potential trade-offs, which we will continue to monitor. During the discussion, ministers emphasized the potential of green bond issuance to enhance the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate transition objective.”

The Eurogroup has discussed the issue several times in recent years since the December 2018 Euro Summit. Klaus Regling, the managing director of the European Stability Mechanism said that overreliance on the dollar contained risks, giving Latin America and the Asian crisis of the 90s as examples. He also referred obliquely to “more recent episodes” where the dollar’s dominance meant that EU companies could not continue to work with Iran in the face of US sanctions. Regling believes that the international monetary system is slowly moving towards a multi-polar system where three or four currencies will be important, including the dollar, euro and renminbi. 

European Commissioner for the Economy, Paolo Gentiloni, agreed that the euro’s role could be strengthened through the issuance of green bonds enhancing the use of the euro by the markets while also contributing to achieving our climate objectives of the Next Generation EU funds.

Ministers agreed that broad action to support the international role of the euro, encompassing progress on amongst other things, Economic and Monetary Union, Banking Union and Capital Markets Union were needed to secure the euros international role.

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EU

European human rights court backs Germany over Kunduz airstrike case

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An investigation by Germany into a deadly 2009 airstrike near the Afghan city of Kunduz that was ordered by a German commander complied with its right-to-life obligations, the European Court of Human Rights ruled on Tuesday (16 February), writes .

The ruling by the Strasbourg-based court rejects a complaint by Afghan citizen Abdul Hanan, who lost two sons in the attack, that Germany did not fulfil its obligation to effectively investigate the incident.

In September 2009, the German commander of NATO troops in Kunduz called in a U.S. fighter jet to strike two fuel trucks near the city which NATO believed had been hijacked by Taliban insurgents.

The Afghan government said at the time 99 people, including 30 civilians, were killed. Independent rights groups estimated between 60 and 70 civilians were killed.

The death toll shocked Germans and ultimately forced its defence minister to resign over accusations of covering up the number of civilian casualties in the run-up to Germany’s 2009 election.

Germany’s federal prosecutor general had found that the commander did not incur criminal liability, mainly because he was convinced when he ordered the airstrike that no civilians were present.

For him to be liable under international law, he would have had to be found to have acted with intent to cause excessive civilian casualties.

The European Court of Human Rights considered the effectiveness of Germany’s investigation, including whether it established a justification for lethal use of force. It did not consider the legality of the airstrike.

Of 9,600 NATO troops in Afghanistan, Germany has the second-largest contingent behind the United States.

A 2020 peace agreement between the Taliban and Washington calls for foreign troops to withdraw by May 1, but U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration is reviewing the deal after a deterioration in the security situation in Afghanistan.

Germany is preparing to extend the mandate for its military mission in Afghanistan from March 31 until the end of this year, with troop levels remaining at up to 1,300, according to a draft document seen by Reuters.

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EU

Digitalization of EU justice systems: Commission launches public consultation on cross-border judicial co-operation

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On 16 February, the European Commission launched a public consultation on the modernization of EU justice systems. The EU aims to support member states in their efforts to adapt their justice systems to the digital age and improve EU cross-border judicial co-operation. Justice Commissioner Didier Reynders (pictured) said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted the importance of digitalization, including in the field of justice. Judges and lawyers need digital tools to be able to work together faster and more efficiently.

At the same time, citizens and businesses need online tools for an easier and more transparent access to justice at a lower cost. The Commission strives to push this process forward and support member states in their efforts, including as regards facilitating their cooperation in cross-border judicial procedures by using digital channels.” In December 2020, the Commission adopted a communication outlining the actions and initiatives intended to advance the digitalization of justice systems across the EU.

The public consultation will gather views on the digitalization of EU cross-border civil, commercial and criminal procedures. The results of the public consultation, in which a broad range of groups and individuals can participate and which is available here until 8 May 2021, will feed into an initiative on digitalisation of cross-border judicial cooperation expected at the end of this year as announced in the 2021 Commission's Work Programme.

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