The Philippine presidential palace lashed out at United Nations experts on Friday for what Manila said was a lack of impartiality in calling out alleged human rights abuses in the country.
Thirty-one U.N. special rapporteurs and other experts, in a joint statement issued from Geneva, renewed a call for an independent, impartial and “on the ground” probe into the Duterte administration’s bloody crackdown on illegal drugs. The government has flatly rejected such a proposal in the past.
“We maintain that the Philippines has continuously discharged its obligations to punish violations of human rights,” presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.
“The conclusion they have reached and the sanctions they have demanded confirm the lack of impartiality that has unfortunately tainted the human rights mechanisms of the United Nations when it comes to the Duterte administration,” he said.
In their statement, the experts also urged U.N. member states to impose sanctions and prosecute “individual Philippine officials who have committed, incited or failed to prevent human rights abuses.”
The rapporteurs and experts blasted Manila for the “staggering cost of the relentless and systematic assault” on the basic rights of the Filipino people.
The climate for human rights in the Philippines had reached a “level of gravity requiring robust intervention” by the world body, they said.
“The Human Rights Council must do everything in its power to prevent the continuation of widespread and systematic human rights abuses against the Philippines people,” the rapporteurs said.
They released their statement on Thursday ahead of the U.N. Human Rights Council’s 44th regular session in Geneva, scheduled to run from June 30 to July 20.
Michelle Bachelet, the U.N.’s High Commissioner for Human Rights, is expected to release her office’s report on the Philippines during that period.
The Philippines had existing laws and mechanisms to address torture and enforced disappearances, among other concerns related to human rights abuses, Roque emphasized
“We have a working and independent judiciary that deals with violators of the human rights, regardless of who they may be,” Roque said, adding that Philippine courts stood ready to “receive and rule” on any complaint.
“We call on the special rapporteurs to respect our legal system and the Philippines as a sovereign state,” he said.
Upon assuming office in mid-2016, Duterte launched a bloody war on drugs that has since left at least 6,000 suspected drug addicts and dealers dead, based on an official police count.
Rights groups, however, said the figure could be as high as 20,000 and 30,000.
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a report published earlier this month, placed the figure at 8,663, with more than 220,000 “drug personalities” arrested. Seventy-three of those killed were children.
The U.N. experts also noted that Duterte had ordered police forces to shoot dead anyone found to be protesting a lack of food aid as the Philippines went into a lockdown earlier during the coronavirus pandemic.
“COVID-19 has further accelerated the downward spiral of the human rights situation in the Philippines. Police and the military have used violence and lethal force to enforce a quarantine imposed without due consideration for the situation of the poorest and most vulnerable communities,” the experts said.
“In response to the protests of poor Filipinos demanding food aid amid the COVID-19 lockdown, President Duterte reportedly authorized police and security forces to kill protesters saying: ‘Do you understand? Dead. Instead of causing trouble, I’ll send you to the grave.’”