Mindanao, Philippines – The United Nations approved a resolution seeking action into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte‘s “war on drugs” that has killed thousands of people over the last three years.
Members of the UN’s Human Rights Council voted 18 in favour and 14 against on Thursday on the resolution submitted by Iceland and 27 other European countries on July 4. A total of 15 other nations abstained from voting.
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With the adoption of the resolution, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet was directed to prepare a “comprehensive report on the human rights situation” in the Philippines by June 2020.
It also urged Duterte’s government to cooperate in the process by facilitating visits by UN investigators and “refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation”.
In a statement on Thursday, Iceland said it pushed the resolution “not because we seek confrontation” with the Philippines, but to protect victims of human rights abuses.
In a statement to Al Jazeera, Human Right Watch welcomed the resolution as “a modest but vital measure”.
“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,” Laila Matar, deputy Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, said.
The Philippines-based Karapatan Alliance for the Advancement of People’s Rights also welcomed the UN vote as a “step towards justice and accountability”.
Karapatan said it applauds the UN’s decision “to not remain complicit amid the rights violations being perpetrated in the Philippines”.
“This is not the end-all, be-all of our efforts to exact accountability, but we take it as a critical start. This is a decision on the side of justice,” said Karapatan Secretary-General Cristina Palabay.
In a separate message to Al Jazeera, Palabay described the atmosphere in Geneva as “intense” leading up to the vote.
“Despite the government’s efforts to discredit and malign victims, their relatives, and human rights organisations, many countries have already expressed alarm on our situation,” she said.
Earlier, Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr drew criticism after he wrote on social media from Geneva that if Iceland’s resolution passes, “that means bonuses for everyone who worked for it – from the drug cartel”.
The Philippine delegation called the resolution “ill-advised” and “politically motivated” and therefore it “can never be balanced”.
China called the resolution politicised and voted against it.
In a meeting earlier this week, the Philippine delegation staged a walkout to protest the filing of the resolution.
The government of the Philippines has rejected accusations that it carries out state-sponsored executions.
The Philippine police acknowledged at least 6,600 people were killed during the first half of Duterte’s six-year presidency, all of them in shootouts with police.
Other human rights groups say the death toll has surpassed 27,000, with many cases either perpetrated by undercover police officers or gunmen contracted by police.
On Monday, Amnesty International said its latest investigation showed police operate with “total impunity as they murder people from poor neighbourhoods whose names appear on manufactured ‘drug watch-lists’ established outside of any legal process”.
“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’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia, said in a statement.
“It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable.”
The Philippines’ National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and Karapatan also urged the council to vote in favour of the resolution.
Earlier this week, Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said the government is “prepared” to face the inquiry.
Duterte’s spokesman, Salvador Panelo, called the proposal an “outrageous interference” in the sovereignty of the Philippines.
“The resolution is grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow, and maliciously partisan,” Panelo said in a lengthy statement issued overnight.
“It reeks of nauseating politics completely devoid of respect for the sovereignty of our country, even as it is bereft of the gruesome realities of the drug menace.”
In February 2018, the International Criminal Court also launched a preliminary probe into Duterte’s anti-drug war, prompting the president to withdraw the country from its treaty. Human rights groups hope it will soon open a full investigation.