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UN Slams Extrajudicial Killings in Philippines’ So-Called War on Drugs

FILE - Relatives of victims in President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called war on drugs comfort each other as they gather at a Roman Catholic church in suburban Quezon city, March 15, 2019, northeast of Manila, Philippines.

A report submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council denounces the so-called war on drugs by the government of Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, which has resulted in the killings of thousands of alleged drug suspects.

The United Nations was not allowed to enter the Philippines to conduct its investigation. Therefore, its report is based on information gathered from hundreds of documents, civil society and government sources, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.

The material presents a chilling account of a five-year war against drugs waged by Duterte without regard for due process rights and the rule of law. Official government figures show at least 8,663 people have been killed. However, some estimates put the toll at more than triple that number.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said the report finds serious human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and incitement to violence were sanctioned from the highest levels of government.

“The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic — and they are ongoing. We also found near-total impunity, indicating an unwillingness by the state to hold to account perpetrators of extrajudicial killings. Families of the victims, understandably, feel powerless, with the odds firmly stacked against justice,” she said.

Bachelet notes senior government officials acknowledge the draconian campaign has not been effective in reducing the supply of illicit drugs. She calls on the government to conduct independent investigations into the grave violations documented in the report.

Philippines Minister of Justice, Menardo Guevarra said his government, like those of others, faces many problems, including drugs, corruption, criminality and terrorism.

Speaking on a video link from Manilla, he told the council his country cherishes its newly won, hard-fought democracy. He said his government is deeply concerned about the inroads made by the drug trade and is committed to fighting this scourge, but always, he added, within the law and in full respect of human rights.

“Our president ran and won on a campaign promise of a drug-free Philippines where our people are safe, and their rights protected. The president has discharged this mandate faithfully. After four years, the president and his anti-drug campaign enjoy the strong and widespread support or our people,” he said.

Guevarra rejects claims that Philippine officials and security personnel operate within a climate of impunity. He said each case of wrongdoing is brought before authorities with the diligence it deserves. He also rejects calls for an independent investigative mechanism, noting the country’s Commission on Human Rights is a strong independent monitoring body, which serves that function.