UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Chilean Michelle Bachelet, speaks during a press conference in Caracas on June 21, 2019.
AFP/Cristian Hernandez
UN rights chief closely monitoring situation in Philippines
Gaea Katreena Cabico (Philstar.com) - June 24, 2019 - 6:30pm

MANILA, Philippines — The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights is closely following the situation of human rights in the Philippines, its chief, Michelle Bachelet, said as she noted the high number of deaths in the government’s anti-drug campaign as well as attacks against rights defenders.

In her opening statement at the 41st session of the Human Rights Council, Bachelet said the “extraordinarily high number of deaths” and “persistent reports of extrajudicial killings” in the drug war continue in the Philippines.

Authorities have acknowledged the deaths of 6,600 "drug personalities" in law enforcement operations since the anti-drug campaign was ramped up when President Rodrigo Duterte took office on June 30, 2016. All of those who died had violently resisted arrest, authorities said.

But human rights watchdogs have higher estimates of more than 27,000 since June 2016.

“Even the officially confirmed number of 5,425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country,” Bachelet said, referring to figures since superceded by a government data release this month.

The goverment has repeatedly said that extrajudicial killings are not state policy and that law enforcement operations are done according to due process. It has also said that recognizes and upholds human rights and that allegations of abuse are attempts to discredit the Duterte administration.

Special rapporteurs call for probe

She also welcomed the call of UN special rapporteurs for the UN Human Rights Council—composed of 47 member states—to take action in what they called a sharp deterioration of human rights in the Philippines.

In a statement last June 7, the 11 independent experts urged the council to launch an independent probe into the alleged human rights violation in the country, and take action on the alleged attacks on human rights defenders and independent watchdog institutions.

The Philippines is a member of the UN Human Rights Council.

“There should also be comprehensive and transparent information from the authorities on the circumstances around the deaths and investigations related to allegations of violations. These could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities,” Bachelet said.

The Philippines rejected the call of the special rapporteurs, with the Department of Foreign Affiars saying it was made “in bad faith by parties who want to undermine domestic processes and spread disinformation, on the basis of one-sided reports coming from questionable sources.”

The Palace said the special rapporteurs were "foreign propagandists masquerading as human rights protectors."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo said earlier this month that: "One or two of them have tried this [tack] using some gullible if not biased local and foreign media sowing the seeds of negative force and perpetuating them."

"They used the art of continuing miscommunication to clothe them with believability," he also said.

‘Real risk of violence’

The UN human rights chief also noted that government officials have threatened human rights defenders, journalists, lawyers, priests and others who have spoken out against the administration's policies.

Duterte and other government officials have also accused human rights defenders and other activists of working with syndicates, terrorists and criminals.

“This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression,” Bachelet said.

New York-headquartered Human Rights Watch said it it is not yet too late for the UN member states to prevent killings in the Philippines.

“UN member states stood by while thousands were killed, but it’s not too late for them to act to prevent the killing of thousands more,” Laila Matar, HRW deputy director for the UN, said in a statement Monday.

She added: “When the council convenes in Geneva today, they have an opportunity to do just that—by urgently establishing an international investigation.”

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