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UN Says Anti-Drug Crackdown in Philippines Has Come at Expense of Human Rights

A woman wearing a protective mask rides her bicycle past an image of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, Philippines on Friday March 20, 2020. The Philippines is indefinitely banning the entry of foreigners after the government declared…

The United Nations said Thursday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal crackdown on suspected drug traffickers has come “at the expense of human rights.”

In a new report, the U.N. Human Rights Office said a “heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs” has led to serious human rights violations, including “killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent.”

Duterte launched his anti-drug campaign shortly after taking office in 2016. The U.N. report says official figures show that since the beginning of Duterte’s anti-drug campaign in 2016, the year he took office, at least 8,663 people have been killed, with some estimates putting the actual toll at more than triple that number.

The U.N. Human Rights Office says the killings have been carried out by police acting with “near impunity.” The report says heated rhetoric by high-ranking officials, such as calls for the “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects, may have given police the idea that it had a “permission to kill.”

In addition to the deaths of thousands of suspected drug traffickers, at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists have been killed between 2015 and 2019.

The report says critics of the government’s anti-drug campaign have been accused of either being communists or terrorists, a practice called “red-tagging.” Some of those who have been red-tagged were subsequently killed, while others told U.N. investigators that they have either received death threats or “sexually-charged comments” in private messages or on social media.