Philippines Retains UN Rights Council Seat Despite Duterte’s Drug War

Dennis Jay Santos
Davao, Philippines
181013-PH-UN-drugs-1000.jpg The body of a suspected drug dealer lies on the ground after he was killed by an unidentified assailant in Manila, March 23, 2018.

The Philippines on Saturday announced its election to the U.N. Human Rights Council, calling it a proof that President Rodrigo Duterte was on the right track despite backlash from rights groups slamming the thousands of deaths in his anti-drug war.

The fresh mandate would allow Manila to prove to its detractors that the government valued human rights, Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano told reporters, as he hit back at rights advocates who had severely criticized Duterte’s deadly crackdown.

Inclusion in the council was a “vindication that fake news and baseless accusations have no place in modern-day human rights discussions,” Cayetano said.

Cayetano accused critics of mounting “sustained and well-funded efforts” to block the Philippines’ bid. He did not name names.

Manila received its three-year mandate on Friday via an uncontested election in the U.N. General Assembly, joining 18 new council members, including countries with tainted human rights records, such as Eritrea and Cameroon.

Earlier, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) had lobbied against the Philippines inclusion in the council, warning that the 47-seat council risked losing its credibility.

Duterte, who won a six-year term in 2016, had recently admitted that his “only sin is the extrajudicial killings.”

Six months after he took power, and as controversy swirled over what critics had described as hitman-style drug deaths in the Philippines, Duterte called the U.N. human rights chief an “idiot.”

You there in the United Nations, you do not know diplomacy,” Duterte said, referring to Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, who was then the U.N. high commissioner for human rights. “You do not know how to behave, to be an employee of the United Nations. You do not talk to me like that, you son of a bitch.”

Duterte targeted al-Hussein after the U.N. official urged authorities to investigate the Philippine leader’s boastful claims about having personally shot dead suspects when he was longtime mayor of the southern city of Davao.

At least 4,500 suspected drug addicts and dealers have died in the anti-drug campaign, according to the national police. Authorities say those deaths took place during legitimate gunbattles with law-enforcement officers, putting the blame on unidentified vigilantes for thousands of other killings. Rights groups estimate the death toll at 12,000.

On Friday, HRW accused Duterte of overseeing a “killing frenzy” and warned that the council risked undermining its credibility in the world body with the Philippine presence in the council.

Washington withdrew from the council in June after U.S. officials criticized it for including countries with troubling rights records.

Dozens killed in police operations last week

The news comes as opposition senators on Wednesday called for an immediate investigation into the recent spate of killings in the central city of Cebu, where the national police said it had expanded its anti-illegal operations.

“The allegation that police officers themselves are behind some of the killings is highly disturbing," the senators said in a resolution.

Local reports earlier said 19 suspected drug dealers and users had been killed during anti-drug operations since July this year in different areas of Cebu, a popular tourist destination.

Mark Navales in Cotabato City contributed to this report.

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