The Philippines hit back Monday at Iceland and other countries that had called on President Rodrigo Duterte to end killings in his government’s crackdown on illegal drugs, accusing the foreign governments of making baseless allegations.
Manila was reacting to a joint statement issued on June 19 by Iceland and 37 nations, including the United States, Australia and Britain, during a session of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva.
Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano, in a statement from New York, where he met with Filipino diplomats at the weekend, objected to the criticism and invited Iceland and other states to visit the Philippines and see first-hand the drug situation.
“When you blindly criticize, you don’t see the real situation,” Cayetano said. “We regret that Iceland and several other countries maintained their position despite our offer for them to visit the Philippines and objectively asses the human rights situation, especially at the community level.”
Cayetano said he had personally extended an invitation to Iceland’s foreign minister, Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, but his counterpart appeared disinterested.
“Unfortunately, it seems our friends are really not interested in arriving at the truth and would rather rely on the misinformation being fed to them by parties that have politicized and weaponized human rights,” Cayetano said.
The 38 nations, in their joint statement delivered by Iceland, called on the Philippine government to cease harassing human rights defenders, journalists and the Commission on Human Rights.
The statement was made early this month, but was not picked up widely by the media until the Human Rights Watch (HRW) distributed it to Philippine reporters during the weekend.
HRW, which has carried out its own investigation into the killings, said about 12,000 people had been killed since Duterte took power two years ago.
According to official police figures, more than 4,000 suspected drug addicts and pushers were killed during gun battles that allegedly took place when the suspects resisted arrest.
“We urge the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to bring killings associated with the campaign against illegal drugs to an end and cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable,” Iceland had said on behalf of the other countries.
It said they were also concerned over reports of harassment of human rights defenders and journalists who had aired misgivings about government’s drugs war.
In his reply during the general debate at the Human Rights Council Session in Geneva on Tuesday, Evan Garcia, Manila’s permanent representative to the U.N., questioned Iceland’s move, and sought to turn the tables against those who questioned the Philippines.
He said countries that had questioned the Philippines also had problems of their own, and cited what he called “persistent abusive and inhumane treatment of asylum seekers, refugees and migrants” who try to seek entry into their respective borders.
“We remind countries that have such severe shortcomings, including the United Kingdom and Australia, that the Philippines has preferred to engage with them in a positive manner, whether bilaterally or multilaterally,” Garcia said.
At the same time, Garcia noted that developing countries were hosting 80 percent of the world’s refugees today. “It is a shame for developed countries to keep their eyes shut to this growing concern,” he said.
“We are respectful of our international human rights obligations. We remain a free, dynamic and democratic society. There is no basis, therefore, for the Council to be concerned with the situation in the Philippines,” Garcia said.
Separately, the International Criminal Court in The Hague is also investigating claims by a former police officer and an alleged hitman once employed by Duterte that the president had ordered the executions of criminals and political enemies when he was the long-time mayor of the southern city of Davao.
Duterte had since announced that he was pulling the Philippines out of an international treaty that created the ICC, saying the body had already prejudged him.
On Monday, Philippine Sen. Risa Hontiveros welcomed the call by the 38 countries, noting that their voice had added to the growing calls to end impunity in the Philippines.
“Instead of dismissing the countries’ call, like a responsible member of the international community, the Duterte government should heed it,” Hontiveros said.
“It is not enough to say that the government is already making its own assessment of the country’s human rights situation. The fact that these countries were compelled to speak in one voice against the abuses in our country is testament that the government is not doing enough,” she said.
Cayetano’s assertion that Iceland and other countries were misinformed was “ridiculous” and “absurd,” Hontiveros said.
“Secretary Cayetano should know that many of the countries that signed the petition have various missions to the country, manned by hundreds of staff. They know what is happening around here,” she said.
“The Duterte government should stop making excuses,” she said. “If it has nothing to hide, it will not find it hard to cooperate with the international community to investigate all related deaths and hold perpetrators accountable, and to take concrete actions to stop the killings associated with its bloody war against drugs.”
Mark Navales from Cotabato City contributed to this report.