UN Votes to Probe Thousands of Deaths in Manila's drug war

Basilio Sepe and Jeoffrey Maitem
190711-PH-drugs-1000.jpg Relatives and friends carry a banner while walking next to the hearse of Myca Ulpina, a 3-year-old girl who was killed in what police said was crossfire during an anti-drug operation in Rizal province, Philippines, July 9, 2019.
Basilio Sepe/BenarNews

The Philippines on Thursday dismissed the passage of a United Nations resolution calling for a U.N. investigation into thousands of killings committed under the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs, but rights groups hailed the vote as a critical move toward accountability.

The resolution before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva urged the United Nations to probe what it said were “large-scale killings” under President Rodrigo Duterte’s three-year-old government.

By a vote of 18 to 14, with 15 abstentions, the council approved the resolution, which was introduced by Iceland, and called on U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to present a comprehensive report by June 2020, the United Nations announced.

In Manila, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin brushed off the resolution’s significance, saying it would have “no effect” on the Southeast Asian country.

“Such resolutions especially those passed by a tiny minority can, and will be, ignored,” Locsin posted on his Twitter page. “No consequences.”

The resolution was a clear “initiative to insult the Philippines” by assuming accountability without proof, he said. Locsin warned that the resolution would lead to “far-reaching consequences,” but he did not elaborate.

The Philippine government had earlier denounced the resolution as a “divisive motion” and sought to block it. It had also consistently rejected requests by U.N. human rights rapporteurs to visit Manila and carry out an independent investigation into the government’s drug war.

The 2020 report by Bachelet could form a basis of further action if the situation in the Philippines did not improve or those responsible for abuses went unpunished, rights groups said.

“Three years on, President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ continues to be nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price,” Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southeast Asia, said Thursday.

According to Philippine police, more than 6,600 suspected drug dealers and addicts have been slain since Duterte took power in mid-2016. In a report published on July 8, London-based Amnesty said that, in addition to the official death toll, “evidence points to many thousands more killed by unknown armed persons with likely links to the police.”

New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), meanwhile, described the U.N. decision as “crucial” for holding the government accountable for thousands of killings and other abuses.

“The Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines is a modest but vital measure,” said Laila Matar, HRW’s deputy director in Geneva. “It signals the start of accountability for thousands of ‘drug war’-related killings and other abuses, and will provide hope to countless survivors and families of victims.”

Philippine officials, she said, were engaged in an “aggressive disinformation campaign” to discredit countries calling for the investigation.

“Countries determined to address the human rights crisis in the Philippines prevailed in the face of Manila’s ultimately counterproductive efforts to shield itself from scrutiny,” Matar said. “The challenge now is to ensure that the process moves quickly to compel the Philippine government to stop the killings and prosecute those responsible.”

Local rights group Karapatan said the U.N. council’s vote was a clear victory and that a probe into government’s drug war was long overdue.

“We reiterate that this is not an issue of sovereignty, but of accountability,” said Karapatan head Cristina Palabay, emphasizing that “this is not the end-all, be-all” of efforts to extract accountability.

“This is a decision on the side of justice,” she said.

Earlier, presidential spokesman Salvador Panelo had said that any U.N. investigation into the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics campaign would interfere with Philippine sovereignty.

The resolution’s adoption came days after the funeral of a 3-year-old Philippine girl, who was shot dead during an anti-narcotics raid in Rizal, a province east of Manila.

Police said the toddler had been used as a human shield by her father, an allegation which her mother denied. The father was also shot dead, along with another civilian and an undercover officer involved in the sting operation.


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