Over 60 groups urge UN rights council to launch probe into 'serious' abuses in Philippines

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Over 60 groups urge UN rights council to launch probe into 'serious' abuses in Philippines
Delegates wearing protective mask and keeping social distance as a precautionary measure against spreading COVID-19 attend the 44th session of the Human Rights Council at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva on June 30, 2020.
Denis Balibouse / Pool / AFP

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights and civil society groups called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to establish an independent investigation into alleged extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations committed during the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte.

In a letter addressed to the UN body, 62 local and international organizations expressed their “continued grave concern over ongoing extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ in the Philippines.”

The groups urged member and observer countries at the Human Rights Council to respond “robustly” to the report on the situation in the Philippines by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“Specifically, we urge you to actively work towards the adoption of a resolution establishing an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016, with a view to contributing to accountability,” they said.

Citing the “failure” of the Philippine authorities to stop or effectively investigate crimes and punish those responsible, the groups said that launching a probe is the “only credible next step” that the council can take to address the ongoing human rights crisis in the country.

The Human Rights Council, made up of 47 UN member states, is an inter-governmental body within the UN system responsible for addressing situations of human rights violations and making recommendations on them. The council will convene its 45th session on September 14.

Decline of human rights

“Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016, the human rights situation in the Philippines has undergone a dramatic decline,” the organizations said.

The report of the UN rights office presented during the council’s 44h session in July found that the government’s “heavy-handed” focus on combating illegal drugs and security threats—coupled with verbal encouragement from top officials—has resulted in grave human rights violations such as “widespread and systematic killing” of thousands of alleged drug personalities.

The OHCHR said at least 8,663 people had been killed in the government’s anti-drug campaign. But according to estimates of human rights watchdogs, as many as 27,000 had died.

The organizations also stressed that attacks against human rights defenders and critics of the government are “frequent and persistent.” They cited the recent killings of rights worker Zara Alvarez and peasant leader Randall Echanis.

The OHCHR report found that vilification of dissent and attacks against perceived critics of the government are being “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”

The groups also mentioned attacks against media and the recently-passed Anti-Terrorism Law, which is feared to be used as a tool to suppress dissent and target opponents of the administration.

“In the absence of further Council action, the Philippine government will likely be emboldened to continue and escalate its violent anti-drug campaign and other serious rights violations, including reprisals against human rights defenders and civil society organizations, while the pervasive fear among victims and their families will only increase,” they said.

Among the groups that signed the statement were Amnesty International, Center for International Law, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation, Free Legal Assistance Group, Human Rights Watch, Karapatan, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the Philippine Human Rights Information Center.

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