'Grave violations': Bachelet presents report on Philippines to UN rights council

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com

MANILA, Philippines (Updated, 6:51 p.m.) — The Philippine government’s war on drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations, including “widespread and systematic” extrajudicial killings, United Nations rights chief Michelle Bachelet said Tuesday.

“The findings of the report were very serious. Law and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights,” Bachelet said as she formally presented her office’s report on the situation in the Philippines to the UN Human Rights Council during its 44th session. 

Bachelet said these policies have resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detentions and the vilification of individuals who challenge these “severe” human rights violations. 

“The report also finds that serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, have resulted from key policies driving the so-called war on drugs and incitement to violence from the highest levels of government,” the UN rights chief said. 

“The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic—and they are ongoing,” she said.

Bachelet noted that her team was not granted access to the Philippines but that the government cooperated with the review through written submissions and "several meetings" in Bangkok, Thailand and Geneva, Switzerland. 

She said that "much of the material in the report is drawn from these official sources" although her office also received "hundreds of submissions" from organizations and individuals in the Philippines.

In a report released June 4, the UN human rights office detailed human rights violations in the Philippines that stemmed from the government’s “heavy-handed” focus on combating illegal drugs and security threats coupled with verbal encouragement from top officials. 

The internationally-condemned campaign against illegal drugs was launched by President Rodrigo Duterte in 2016 after winning elections with his ruthless anti-narcotics and anti-crime platform. 

The office also said there has been “near impunity” for drug war killings with only one conviction—for the murder of 17-year-old school boy Kian delos Santos in 2017. 

Latest government figures put the number of alleged drug personalities killed in the war on drugs at 5,601. But it is significantly lower than the estimates by human rights watchdogs of as many as 27,000 killed. 

‘End of impunity’ 

Bachelet urged the Human Rights Council to remain vigilant on the situation in the Philippines by mandating her office to continue monitoring and reporting as well as through support for technical cooperation to implement the report’s recommendation.

She said the council should consider options for international accountability measures if there will be an absence of clear outcomes from domestic mechanisms. 

The UN rights chief also called on the Philippines to conduct independent investigations into such “grave” violations. 

“I hope the report will mark the beginning of the end of impunity for serious human rights violations in the Philippines. The families of victims, and the country's courageous human rights defenders, count on the international community for help to address these ongoing and serious human rights issues—and for the Council to rise up to its prevention mandate,” Bachelet said. 

“It is not enough to argue that the government’s heavy-handed policies remain popular in the country. Because victims tend to be from lower socio-economic classes and relatively disempowered communities, there is an even stronger imperative to ensure their protection,” she added. 

CHR: Climate of impunity rooted in failure to address past rights violations

In a statement, human rights commissioner Karen Gomez-Dumpit said the agency welcomes the report of the UN rights office but regrets the government’s dismissal of the findings. 

“We share the view that while the climate of impunity can be traced from the failure to fully address past human rights violations, present attitudes and behavior toward human rights have been conditioned by harmful rhetoric of inciting hatred, vilifying legitimate dissent and incentivizing violence, allowing impunity to acutely persist today,” Dumpit said. 

The CHR official stressed it is the state’s obligation to accept the findings and recommendations of the report and take definitive steps to demonstrate the effectiveness of domestic mechanisms. 

As its recommendation, the CHR called for an immediate halt on harmful rhetoric from those in power, full cooperation of the Philippine National Police and accountability mechanisms.

It also asked the government to account and locate each victim of human rights violations, prosecute all perpetrators and provide assistance to victims of the anti-drug campaign and the families they left behind. 

Last year, the council voted to adopt a resolution requiring Bachelet to prepare a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines. 

The Philippines is one of the 47 nations currently sitting on the council. 

The United Nations Human Rights Council will hold its 44th regular session from June 30 to July 20 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva. 


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