A year-long investigation has found “near-total impunity” for perpetrators of killings under the Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign as Philippine national security laws are being used to undermine human rights, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said Tuesday.
Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner, made the assertions during a speech in Geneva, where she presented the findings of the investigation into the Philippines before the U.N.’s Human Rights Council as it opened its 44th session.
A year ago, the council instructed her office to probe allegations of massive rights abuses linked to the drug war, which has gone on for four years.
“The campaign against illegal drugs is being carried out without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing,” Bachelet said.
“We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the state to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings,” she said. “Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice.”
The campaign, meanwhile, has been “ineffective” in reducing the supply of illegal drugs in the Philippines, Bachelet alleged.
“The findings of the report are very serious,” Bachelet said. “Laws and policies to counter national security threats and illegal drugs have been crafted and implemented in ways that severely impact human rights.”
She said the policies had “resulted in thousands of killings, arbitrary detention and the vilification of those who challenge these severe human rights violations.”
Since the campaign against illegal drugs began, Philippine police have claimed more than 6,000 deaths of alleged dealers and addicts in operations carried out since Duterte became president in mid-2016. Rights groups, however, said the number could be four times higher, with many of the killings carried out by pro-government vigilantes.
The report, she said, also found that more than 248 human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and labor unionists were killed in the Philippines between 2015 and 2019, with rights defenders “routinely smeared” as terrorists and enemies of the government.
Bachelet called on President Rodrigo Duterte to not sign the country’s anti-terror bill, which she said blurred distinctions between criticism and terrorism.
To become law, the bill needs the signature of Duterte, who, according to his office, was studying it closely.
If signed, it would have a “chilling effect” on humanitarian work in the country, Bachelet said.
“I urge the president to refrain from signing the law, and to initiate a broad-cased consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism – but which contains safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy,” she said.
Philippine Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra rejected her criticism as he delivered the government’s rebuttal. He said the Southeast Asian country was a democracy where all opposing voices are heard.
“In the Philippine situation, where the option of righting every possible wrong evidently and vigorously exists, there is no reasonable basis to allege impunity or lack of accountability for human rights violations,” he said.
Guevarra said there should be “no moral ambiguity” in Duterte’s efforts to boost the country’s weak terrorism laws which he stressed was only meant to protect the safety and security of the country.
“The terrorism index has consistently ranked the Philippines among countries most impacted by terrorism,” he said.