Ten days after the murder of an activist in the Philippines, more than 60 human rights groups this week urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to investigate the alleged extrajudicial killings of thousands of drug suspects and human rights activists since 2016.
The groups, including more than 30 from the Philippines, said that only an independent international investigation could hold violators accountable for the more than 8,000 people allegedly killed by police and security personnel.
“Since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in June 2016, the human rights situation in the Philippines has undergone a dramatic decline,” the groups said in their Aug. 27 letter to the council.
They urged member countries to take action as soon as next month’s 45th session meeting.
“[A]ctively 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,” the letter said.
Philippine officials did not immediately respond to a BenarNews request for comment on the letter.
Laila Matar, deputy director for the United Nations office in Geneva of Human Rights Watch, one of the letter’s signatories, described the effort of the rights groups as “a remarkable show of solidarity that members of the U.N. Human Rights Council should not ignore.”
“The extrajudicial killings and other severe rights abuses in the Philippines continue unabated, and the groups endorsing this letter are saying enough is enough,” Matar said.
The groups sent the letter to the UNHRC a day after the burial of Zara Alvarez, a human rights worker whose killing in the central Philippine island of Negros on Aug. 17 triggered outrage at home and abroad. She was the 89th civilian killed on the island where stark social inequities have propelled the communist New People’s Army to establish a stronghold.
Agnes Callamard, a U.N. special rapporteur, expressed horror over the killing.
“My heart cries out for Zara Alvarez, for her family, her friends, her colleagues, the people she served,” Callamard tweeted on Tuesday. “What will it take for these killings to stop? How much more sorrow, grief, pain can the people endure? ... Enough.”
Alvarez’s wasn’t the only killing this month. On Aug. 10, Randall Echanis, an agrarian reform advocate and peace consultant for the outlawed Communist Party of the Philippines (CPP), was killed in his rented home in Metro Manila.
Human rights activists alleged that Alvarez and Echanis may have been killed by state security forces, but presidential spokesman Harry Roque last week rejected their concerns.
“We denounce any form of violence perpetuated against citizens, including activists. We are a nation of laws and violence has no place in any civilized society,” Roque said.
To get justice for Alvarez, Echanis and the thousands of others similarly killed extrajudicially, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, in its June report on the Philippines, also stressed the need for an “independent, impartial and effective investigations into the killings.”
‘Frequent and persistent’ attacks
While the government has consistently denied national and international accusations of human rights abuses and killings in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ in the Philippines, the rights groups in their letter to the U.N. council said they are all too common.
“Extrajudicial executions committed in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ continue to take place with total impunity,” the groups said, citing official figures placing the death toll at 8,663 people killed, “with other estimates, including from the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines, of more than triple that number.”
Meanwhile, the U.N. High Commissioner “verified the killings of 208 human rights defenders, journalists and trade unionists, including 30 women, between January 2015 and December 2019,” the groups said.
“Attacks against human rights defenders and critics of the government – including activists, journalists, church leaders, trade union leaders, indigenous and peasant leaders and individuals who are members of groups affiliated with the political left – are frequent and persistent,” they wrote in the letter to UNHRC.
They said that there is virtually no accountability in the Philippines for unlawful killings allegedly committed by police and their associates for such killings. And when international organizations spotlight the killings, Duterte works overtime to get the issue off their agendas and even takes steps like withdrawing from these organizations, they said.
For instance, when the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court opened a probe into the drug war killings, Duterte pulled the country out of the body. When U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivered her report on the Philippines in June, the government again outright denied its role in extrajudicial killings.
“The Duterte administration is once again pulling out all the stops to get the Philippines out of the spotlight and off the agenda of the Human Rights Council,” said Matar, the Human Rights Watch official in Geneva.
“States should not buy into Manila’s misleading campaign and instead demand accountability through a strong resolution that recognizes that the human rights situation in the Philippines has not improved and ens