UN experts and human rights groups have harshly criticized last Wednesday’s UN resolution for failing to investigate and recognize human rights abuses by the Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “War on Drugs.”
This resolution came in the wake of a report by the UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, which found that despite “widespread and systematic” killings by law enforcement, these perpetrators have “near impunity.” The UN’s resolution has been widely condemned by civil society and UN experts alike as a “weak resolution” and a “collective failure,” with calls from 35 NGOs to launch an independent, international investigation into the situation.
This new UN resolution requests that the UN Human Rights Office support the Philippines through “technical assistance and capacity-building” which could include the collection of police data and assistance with domestic investigations. However, the Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines remarked that abuses appear to be continuing within the country, despite suggestions that the Government is engaging with the UN. “Killings have not abated, harassments continue, ‘lawfare’ remains and non-cooperation persists as prevailing practice, specifically on investigation on killings resulting from the administration’s ‘drug war’,” the commission said.
Rachel Chhoa-Howard, a Philippines Researcher at Amnesty International, also argued that “the human rights situation in the Philippines warrants more than just ‘technical assistance’ from the UN. A full international investigation to effectively address the pervasive impunity in the country is urgently needed.”
While the amount of people killed during these anti-drug operations is unknown, figures from government indicate at least 8,663 people have been killed, while other estimates suggest three times that number. Sadly, at least 122 children are among this figure. Human Rights Watch reports that killings have risen by 50% during the pandemic. Furthermore, critics have noted the President’s use of these operations to crack down on public dissent, political opposition, and the media. Bachelet’s report verified that between January 2015 and December 2010, 208 journalists, human rights advocates and trade unionists have been killed. Journalists have also been imprisoned for their views, including Maria Ressa who was recently convicted of ‘cyberlibel’ in June.
As violence and media repression appears to only be increasing, it is clear that more punitive measures must be taken by the UN in order to prevent a further loss of life. Michelle Bachelet’s stark warning in June has appeared to be largely underestimated by this international body, allowing for further abuses of power to continue. A peaceful, international, and independent inquiry into extrajudicial violence and human rights abuses must now take place with full transparency from the Philippine government. To facilitate this, the government must desist in the intimidation of the population during this process. Previously, Amnesty International has reported instances of ‘harassment and intimidation’ of those who bring complaints against them. This violent rhetoric does not exclude the President, who publicly told police to “shoot” curfew violators and protestors in April. Despite this, Presidential spokesman Harry Roque noted last Wednesday that Duterte does not support the use of unnecessary force by the police.
While it appears Duerte is not being ignored by the UN, it has been made apparent by human rights groups that further action must be taken against the President and his police force to evaluate and end ongoing abuses of power and end this unjust violence. The UN should also reassess the apparent limitations of its recent resolution within the Philippines to better protect civilians in similar situations elsewhere in the world.