Amnesty renews call for UN rights probe after 'Bloody Sunday' raids

Christian Deiparine - Philstar.com
Amnesty renews call for UN rights probe after 'Bloody Sunday' raids
This undated photo shows a meeting of the United Nations Human Rights Council.
UN / Elma Okic

MANILA, Philippines — A watchdog on Monday said member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council should launch an independent probe on the "rapidly worsening" human rights situation in the country, after nine activists were killed in Calabarzon police's raids over the weekend.

Amnesty International said in a statement it is "deeply alarmed" that police operations now seem to be being used to run after activists and human rights defenders under the Duterte administration.

In raids on what activist groups are calling "Bloody Sunday", police killed nine activists in in what they said were armed encounters that happened as law enforcement officers were serving search warrants.

"Various groups, including the UN, have cast doubts on this self-defense narrative by the police," said Butch Olano, Amnesty International's section director for the Philippines, who added there are cases where documented testimonies have contradicted police claims. "This deception should be exposed and condemned."

In a press briefing earlier Monday, the Palace assured an investigation into the killings.

"I am very sure that (the killings) would be investigated and if there are people who committed wrongdoing, they would be prosecuted and punished," presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said. "With regard to the nine who were killed, we will investigate... when they were killed, they were unarmed."

The Department of Justice-led panel on extrajudicial killings will also investigate the deaths.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra earlier in the year flagged police officers who did not follow protocols in deadly “drug war” operations in a report to the United Nations Human Rights Council, and the justice secretary did not hide his disappointment with the latest incident of killings.

“I was really hoping that with the statement I made before the UN, our law enforcers would be more careful in their operations but these things continue to happen so we really need to sit down with PNP with the [Philippine Drug Eenforcement Agency] with other law enforcement to make sure that this… could be avoided. We could do something about it,” he said Monday.

The Commission on Human Rights has also announced it will investigate the killings as it issued a reminder that remarks from leaders can "embolden some to act with abuse and impunity." 

READ: DOJ-led task force on extrajudicial killings to investigate 'Bloody Sunday' raids

No UN-led probe yet

In October of last year, the UNHRC adopted a resolution providing for "technical assistance" to improve the human rights situation in the country. The body, however, stopped short of launching an on-the-ground investigation despite thousands already dead from Duterte's anti-drug campaign.

A UN fact-finding team must be invited by the Philippine government before it can launch a probe. The government has said it will not do that and has repeatedly assured international bodies that the Philippine justice system is functional.

UN's high commissioner for human rights Michelle Batchelet in a June 2020 report said too that rhetoric from the country's leaders may have led to grave human rights abuses, including "widespread and systematic" extrajudicial killings.

Amnesty said it was among groups that were concerned that the council's move could be perceived as a sign to "continue with impunity."

"Unfortunately, in light of the escalating attacks and killings of activists, human rights defenders, Indigenous people and other groups targeted by government, this seems to be the message received," Olano said.

The group said member states bear the responsibility to ensure that the Philippines honors its commitments to the UNHRC. Countries, they added, "must now take overdue action and launch an independent international investigation to address this alarming situation and end the cycle of impunity that continues to fuel violations." — with a report from The STAR/Alexis Romero and Philstar.com/Kristine Joy Patag







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