UN rights experts seek inquiry into Philippines killings

President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs has seen thousands of alleged dealers killed by police.

    Government figures on the number of people killed by police are widely disputed [Erik De Castro/Reuters]
    Government figures on the number of people killed by police are widely disputed [Erik De Castro/Reuters]

    United Nations human rights experts called for an international investigation into "a staggering number" of police killings linked to a crackdown on drugs in the Philippines.

    The 11 human rights investigators accused President Rodrigo Duterte on Friday of publicly intimidating activists and Supreme Court judges, degrading women, and inciting violence against alleged drug dealers and others.

    There was no immediate response from the Philippine government or Duterte, who came to power in 2016, promising to eradicate drugs and crime and promised earlier this year to step up his campaign to do so.

    The experts urged the UN Human Rights Council, whose 47 member states open a three-week session on June 24, to launch an independent inquiry into what they called a sharp deterioration in human rights across the country. 

    "We have recorded a staggering number of unlawful deaths and police killings in the context of the so-called war on drugs, as well as killings of human rights defenders," said the officials who include Agnes Callamard, the UN investigator on extrajudicial executions.

    "The government has shown no indication that they will step up to fulfil their obligation to conduct prompt and full investigations into these cases," a joint statement said.

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    Richard Heydarian, a Manila-based political scientist, said the timing of the call was interesting, coming after Duterte and his allies swept key midterm elections

    "Now we have the prospect of a very emaciated liberal opposition, very demoralised human rights activism groups, and a very powerful president who is tightening his grip on state institutions," he told Al Jazeera.

    "It's sending a signal to the Philippine government that even though you may be more powerful than ever domestically, even though President Duterte's allies are now even in charge of the legislature, and even though there is not much of a chance for institutional checks and balances at home, at least internationally there could be a movement on that front," said Heydarian.

    Thousands dead

    Last month, the top enforcer of the "war on drugs", Ronald dela Rosa, dared prosecutors to go after him for the deaths of thousands of people, after activists warned the public that his election to the Senate could insulate him from legal action. 

    The government insists the more than 5,050 suspected drug dealers whom police have killed in anti-narcotics operations all put up a fight. 

    The UN and several other bodies have disputed this figure, with Human Rights Watch (HRW) saying at least 12,000 Filipinos have been killed since Duterte's campaign began in 2016.

    Among the thousands of killings, only three police have been held to account under the law. 

    In March, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet criticised Duterte over the mass killings, urging his government to take a "public health approach" to tackle drugs issues.

    Charlotte Mitchell contributed to this report

    Rodrigo Duterte: Guns, Goons and the Presidency

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    Rodrigo Duterte: Guns, Goons and the Presidency

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies