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UN urges government: Stop extrajudicial killings

Human rights activists light candles for the victims of extra-judicial killings around the country in the wake of "War on Drugs" campaign by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte Monday, Aug. 15, 2016 in suburban Quezon city, northeast of Manila, Philippines. The "war on drugs" campaign, which saw hundreds of mostly poor victims, has been condemned by human rights groups including the United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon. AP/Bullit Marquez

MANILA, Philippines - The United Nations yesterday urged the Philippine government to put an end to the current wave of extrajudicial killings in the context of an intensified campaign against crime and the drug menace.

Two UN human rights experts said “allegations of drug trafficking offenses should be judged in a court of law, not by gunmen on the streets.”

The Philippine National Police reported yesterday that over 1,600 drug suspects have been killed since Duterte assumed power, with 665 attributed to PNP members and the rest to vigilantes.

“We call on Philippine authorities to adopt with immediate effect the necessary measures to protect all persons from targeted killings and extrajudicial executions,” said new UN special rapporteur on summary executions Agnes Callamard. 

“Claims to fight the illicit drug trade do not absolve the government from its international legal obligations and do not shield state actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings,” Callamard stressed.

The official added that the state has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offenses or not. 

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Meanwhile, UN special rapporteur on the right to health Dainius Puras said responses to the illicit drug trade must be carried out in full compliance with national and international obligations and should respect the human rights of each person. 

Puras said drug dependency “should be treated as a public health issue and justice systems that decriminalize drug consumption and possession for personal use as a means to improve health outcomes.”

During the election campaign and his first days in office, Duterte repeatedly urged law enforcement agencies and the public to kill suspected drug traffickers and users.

The UN noted that Duterte was also reported as promising impunity for such killings and bounties for those who turn in drug dealers “dead or alive.” 

“Directives of this nature are irresponsible in the extreme and amount to incitement to violence and killing, a crime under international law. It is effectively a license to kill,” Callamard said.

The UN expert on summary executions warned that “intentional lethal use of force is only allowed when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life and should not be used for common policing objectives.”

The special rapporteurs welcomed recent reports saying the President is now publicly condemning vigilante justice and calling on all authorities to take a clear and public stance against it.

They, however, underscored that it is not enough.

“Incentives to violence such as bounties or the promise of impunity also seriously contravene the rule of law and must end,” the experts said.

“All allegations of killings and extrajudicial executions must be promptly and thoroughly investigated. Perpetrators and instigators must be sanctioned without exception,” they said. 

On Wednesday, President Duterte scored the UN for hitting his aggressive anti-drug campaign.

He complained that the organization is zeroing in on his administration’s drug campaign when it was quiet on mass killings in other countries.

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