Int'l rights watchdogs call on UN to launch investigative body for EJKs in Philippines 

Bella Perez-Rubio - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines — Two international watchdogs on Thursday called on the United Nations to establish an independent investigative body for the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines following an explosive report released by its Human Rights Council (OHCHR). 

In their statement, Amnesty International said the establishment of an investigative mechanism by the UN would help address the human rights violations in the country, some of which they claim rise to the level of “crimes against humanity.” 

Human Rights Watch, in their own statement, called the country’s human rights situation “catastrophic.” 

The group added the unlikelihood "that national mechanisms will hold anyone responsible for the carnage of the ‘drug war’ that has killed thousands of Filipinos” necessitated the establishment of an impartial UN investigative body. 

The OHCHR in their report said human rights concerns in the Philippines have become “more acute” in recent years as manifested by the “widespread and systematic killing” of thousands of alleged drug personalities. 

The government has denied that extrajudicial killings are state policy and has said that the more than 5,000 acknowledged deaths were because "drug personalities" had violently resisted arrest.

The report’s findings 

Human rights watchdogs place the death toll of President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs at around 27,000 persons — a number exponentially higher than the latest government figure of 5,601.

One of the more explosive findings in the UN report identified a pattern that “suggests planting of evidence by police officers and casts doubt on the self- defense narrative, implying that the victims were likely unarmed at the time of killing.”

The report detailed several instances wherein seven guns with the same serial numbers suspiciously reappeared across different crime scenes. 

Amnesty International highlighted that it has been largely poor communities who have been victimized by the drug war and voiced their concern for the "total impunity enjoyed by those who have perpetrated these crimes.”

Silencing critics 

These calls for the establishment of an independent investigative body came amid recent fears that a proposed anti-terrorism law will silence government critics. 

The proposed Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020 vilifies dissent and institutionalizes attacks against perceived critics of the government “in ways that will be difficult to reverse,” according to the UN.   

HRW, in support of the UN, said the OHCHR was "right to raise concerns about the systematic constriction of the democratic space in the country through intimidating red-tagging, and sometimes assassinating civil society activists, rights defenders, journalists, lawyers and others.”

The House of Representatives on Wednesday evening approved the proposed “Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020” (House Bill 6875) on its third and final reading. The controversial anti-terrorism bill now only needs President Rodrigo Duterte's signature to become a law.

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