On July 12th, the United Nations Human Rights Council voted to investigate the ongoing ‘War on Drugs’ spearheaded by President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines. Proposed by Iceland, the resolution to investigate the alleged deaths of 12 000 Filipinos was approved with 18 nations voting in favour and with 14 opposing. Despite criticism from Philippine representatives that the investigation comprises a “politically partisan and one-sided resolution,” it serves as a crucial insight into the mass campaign of extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances in the country, as documented by various human rights organisations.
The deaths associated with the ‘War on Drugs’ in the Philippines, synonymous with Duterte’s so-called ‘death squads,’ has categorized the country as the fourth most dangerous in the world, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project (ACLED). Duterte has constantly denied allegations of mass murders occurring within the country, blaming deaths on violent drug dealers and ‘terrorists’ operating within the ‘War on Terror,’ another campaign launched by him.
Prior to the proposed UN investigation, Amnesty International referred to the ongoing killings committed in the ‘War on Drugs’ as reaching “the threshold of crimes against humanity.” Evidence collected by Human Rights Watch (HRW) has indicated how police in the country are falsifying evidence to justify such killings in an operation endorsed by Duterte labelled ‘Operation Double Barrel.’ The overwhelming evidence collected by these Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) warranted the official investigation by the UN’s Human Rights Council which aims to hold the president accountable for his ongoing war campaigns. Nicholas Bequelin from Amnesty International reiterates the importance of investigating the war campaign, which he describes as “nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise for which the poor continue to pay the highest price.”
Since Duterte’s inauguration as President, the country has been plagued with thousands of deaths associated with multiple ‘wars’ on drugs and terror. Despite this, Duterte has continually rejected criticism and official investigations into alleged crimes against humanity committed in the country. In 2016, he threatened to leave the UN after several bodies criticized his involvement in the ‘war on drugs.’ Only last year, a spokesperson for Duterte rejected a probe by the International Criminal Court against crimes committed in the same war campaign. In the long-term, Phelim Kine from HRW describes the impact and tactics from the president’s anti-investigation stance, “Duterte has not only resisted calls to end his brutal ‘drug war,’ but has used populist rhetoric to disparage the brave activists who have been investigating and denouncing his cruel campaign.” Therefore, the importance of the recent resolution passed by the UN’s Human Rights Council cannot be understated and is an important precedent in preventing mass illegitimate killings occurring not only within the Philippines but around the world.
Reiterating the remarks by Kine, “Since Duterte will never undertake a serious investigation into the ‘war on drugs,’ it’s up to the United Nations to support an international investigation and bring the mass killings to a stop.” The resolution initiated by Iceland marks a serious and important attempt at bringing such killings to an end. “Proof that our voice and our work make a difference,” stated the Icelandic Foreign Minister. It is a step forward in strengthening and unifying the UN system against the threat of illegitimate killings and human rights abuse. The investigation should also inspire to identify the illegal killings and arrests associated with the similar ‘War on Terror’ in the Philippines. By doing so, such investigations will look beyond the populist rhetoric employed by Rodrigo Duterte and seek to protect the innocent that often endure the toughest burden.
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