UN launches investigation into Philippines drug war deaths

A relative of a victim of an extrajudicial killing touches the portrait of the relatives during a memorial mass at the Philippine Human Rights Commission office in Manila on July 9, 2019. PHOTO: AFP

MANILA - The United Nations' top human rights body on Thursday (July 11) narrowly passed a resolution calling for greater scrutiny of the Philippines' war on drugs.

The Human Rights Council voted 18-14, with 15 abstentions, to approve a resolution, presented by Iceland, that cites allegations of thousands of killings since President Rodrigo Duterte began a brutal crackdown on the narcotics trade in mid-2016.

The resolution calls on the Philippines to "take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances".

It also urges the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to prepare a written report on the Philippines for consideration at the Human Rights Council's summer session next year.

The Philippines immediately rejected the resolution.

"(We) cannot, in good conscience, abide by it. We will not accept a politically partisan and one-sided resolution, so detached from the truth on the ground," Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin said in a statement read by his representative in Geneva.

He then said in a tweet: "Actually, no effect."

"Such resolutions, especially those passed by a tiny minority, can and will be ignored." But he warned that there would be "far-reaching consequences".

Human rights groups claim tens of thousands are being killed, as police terrorise poor communities using cursory drug "watch lists" to identify suspected users and dealers, and executing many of them under the guise of sting operations.

The government reject this as lies, and say those killed were armed and resisted arrest. It also insists that only about 6,600 drug suspects have died since 2016, far lower than the over 25,000 that activists are presenting to the UN.

Amnesty International's regional director for East and South-east Asia Nicholas Bequelin said the UN resolution "builds pressure on the architects of the war on drugs".

"It's a crucial step towards justice and accountability," he said.

Amnesty has described the drug war as a "large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price", and that it has reached "the threshold of crimes against humanity".

The International Criminal Court is itself examining whether the thousands of killings that resulted from Mr Duterte's war are sufficient to warrant a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity.

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