UN experts seek probe on Philippines' drug deaths

The Philippine Star
UN experts seek probe on Philippines' drug deaths

Three special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council have issued a joint statement expressing alarm over the killings related to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs. Daniel Berehulak for The New York Times/World Press Photo via AP, File

MANILA, Philippines — With the police poised to retake the lead in the government’s war against illegal drugs, independent experts from the United Nations (UN) have called on the Duterte administration to review its anti-illegal drug policy and probe drug-related killings.

Three special rapporteurs of the UN Human Rights Council have issued a joint statement expressing alarm over the killings related to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.

“The Philippines is required to protect its population, and its government has a positive obligation to take effective measures to protect the right to life. Failure to do so is a violation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,” the rapporteurs said.

“Many of the killings appear to be perpetrated by law enforcement officials and by unknown assailants. This seems to indicate a climate of official, institutional impunity, which can only encourage further killings and other excessive use of lethal force by law enforcement personnel or those acting on their behalf or with their acquiescence,” they added.

The rapporteurs who signed the joint statement were Agnes Callamard (extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions), Michel Forst (situation of human rights defenders), and Diego García-Sayán (independence of judges and lawyers).

In their statement, the rapporteurs also urged the Philippine government to introduce appropriate measures to stop the killings.

They expressed serious concern that the exact number of victims was unknown, due to changes in terminology and conflicts in official reporting.

“States are under an obligation to conduct effective investigations,” they said. “For an investigation to be effective, it must be conducted promptly. It must be impartial and independent, it should lead to holding perpetrators accountable, and relatives must be involved.”

The human rights experts also urged the government to ensure independence of the judicial system, noting that some lawyers, human rights defenders and judges working on the cases have suffered harassment and threats.

“It is essential that the judges and the judiciary as a whole are impartial and independent of all external pressures, so that those who appear before them and the public at large can have confidence that their cases will be decided fairly and in accordance with the law,” the experts said.

‘Nothing to fear if nothing to hide’

During the forum on human rights organized by the Integrated Bar of the Philippines yesterday, Commission on Human Rights (CHR) chairman Chito Gascon urged the Duterte government to cooperate with UN mechanisms on human rights.

He lamente the Duterte administration’s continuing refusal to invite special rapporteurs, particularly Callamard, to conduct an investigation on the human rights situation.

“We call on the government to stop this cavalier, dismissive attitude to the human rights system and instead to cooperate fully with them,” he said.

“If there is nothing to hide, then there is nothing for them to fear. They should in fact allow all special rapporteurs access to the country,” he added.

Malacañang has repeatedly insisted that Callamard is not fit to conduct the investigation given her previous statements against the war on drugs.

On the decision to bring back the Philippine National Police (PNP) to the anti-illegal drug campaign, Gascon said the CHR will continue to monitor the conduct of the operations.

“Whether it was the police or later transferred to PDEA and now re-transferred back to the police, the CHR together with its partners will just continue to monitor the actions of government and we’ll call out if we see that there are abuses that occur,” he said.

“Our cause of concern is primarily the sense of impunity that has pervaded the country where violations occur and no one is held to account. We have asked for the cooperation of the police in our investigations and continue to expect the government respond accordingly to these requests for cooperation,” he added.

The IBP has also formalized a partnership with the CHR in providing legal aid to victims of human rights violations.

IBP president Abdiel Dan Fajardo and Gascon signed a memorandum of agreement that would enable the human rights body to refer cases to IBP for legal support if these qualify under the IBP’s rules.

Fajardo said the IBP shares with the CHR the common objective of pursuing pro-bono legal aid and counseling to the underprivileged.

“As the national administration for lawyers, we must ensure that the marginalized and the powerless sectors of the society have access to justice,” Fajardo said at an IBP forum on human rights in Taguig City yesterday.

“We aim to do this through partnering with the CHR to provide free, effective and competent legal representation and services to the victims and families of the victims of human rights violations,” he added.

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