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Rights Groups Voice Displeasure at Perceived UN Pullback on Philippine Killings

Froilan Gallardo and Nonoy Espina
Cagayan de Oro and Bacolod, Philippines
2020-10-08
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A police crime-scene operative works at the site of a drug-related slaying in a Manila street, in December 2017.
A police crime-scene operative works at the site of a drug-related slaying in a Manila street, in December 2017.
Luis Liwanag/BenarNews

Human rights groups expressed dismay Thursday over a U.N. resolution that stopped short, they said, of pushing for the creation of an international body to investigate thousands of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines during the Duterte administration’s crackdown on narcotics.

A resolution adopted by the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Wednesday opted to give the Philippine government technical assistance in promoting and protecting human rights. It did not call for the establishment of an investigative body to probe the extrajudicial killings in the four-year-old drug war, as U.N. rapporteurs and rights groups had recommend earlier.

“We are deeply disappointed by the collective failure of states at the Human Rights Council to put in place an international investigation into killings and other serious violations committed in the context of the so-called war on drugs in the Philippines,” said Laila Matar, a deputy director at Human Rights Watch who covers the United Nations.

In a statement, she noted that the council approved the resolution “despite repeated calls by U.N. experts and civil society, and despite widespread killings and other horrific violations in the country documented by the U.N. and others.”

“States at the HRC should follow up and ensure and international investigation is launched in the event that the killings and crackdown on civil society does not end,” Matar added.

Amnesty International said the resolution was a “missed opportunity” to seek justice for thousands of deaths in the Philippines since Duterte became president in mid-2016.

The London-based rights watchdog noted that, rather than seek a comprehensive probe, the council adopted the resolution requesting that Manila be granted technical assistance in improving accountability and data gathering, among other areas.

“The human rights situation in the Philippines warrants more than just ‘technical assistance’ from the U.N.,” said Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty’s researcher in the country.

“A full international investigation to effectively address the pervasive impunity in the country is urgently needed,” she said, adding that the council, through its move, had also failed to “advance justice” for the families of those who have died.

For Llore Benedicto, whose two sons were among thousands of people allegedly killed by the police during the drug war, failure to hold Duterte accountable would further embolden his policemen.

“To be frank, we lack trust in the government, and its agencies because they have been implicated in human rights violations,” she said.

“We still need and hope to have an independent investigation, so that the truth about the killings of our loved ones will come out,” Benedicto said.

The U.N resolution came four months after the world body’s Human Rights Office (OHCHR) released a report that heavily criticized the Philippines for doing little to punish police linked to anti-narcotics killings. The document was published a year after the U.N. Human Rights Council voted in favor of producing a report on the rights situation in the Philippines during the drug war, a move that angered the Duterte administration.

“Accountability and full transparency for alleged violations are essential for building public trust,” Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement released with the report.

“Unfortunately, the report has documented deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations, and victims have been deprived of justice for the killings of their loved ones. Their testimonies are heartbreaking.”

Since mid-2016, some 6,500 suspected addicts and drug dealers have been slain in the Philippines, according to figures compiled by police.

Meanwhile, President Duterte faces two complaints before the International Criminal Court for mass murder in connection with the killings in the drug war.

On Thursday, presidential spokesman Harry Roque welcomed the resolution by the U.N. Human Rights Council, saying it showed that the United Nations still trusted national institutions to investigate abuses and push for rights.

“So, we will fully cooperate with the U.N. Human Rights system, because that is what we really wanted,” Roque told reporters. “We are not saying we are perfect, but we don’t deserve to be faulted either.”

Luis Liwanag contributed to this report from Manila.

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