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UN: For Victims of Philippines 'War on Drugs,' Justice Remains Elusive

FILE - Relatives of victims of then-President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called war on drugs hold a memorial for their loved ones, at a church in Manila, Philippines, March 17, 2019.

The United Nations reports little progress has been made in efforts to reform the Philippines’ anti-drug policy, which has claimed the lives of thousands of people, and bring justice to the victims of human rights violations and abuses.

The findings are part a new report the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted to the U.N Human Rights Council.

The U.N. human rights office signed a technical cooperation agreement in 2020 with the Philippines in hopes of blunting the brutal impact of the government’s anti-drug operations. But the stated aim of protecting and promoting human rights in the country seems to have largely failed.

Acting High Commissioner for Human Rights Nada Al-Nashif said the Philippines government has taken some steps to pursue accountability for human rights violations and abuses. However, she noted access to justice remains elusive for victims.

“Victims’ willingness to engage was also hampered by inadequate support and protection and fear of reprisals,” she said. “While official figures reflect a decrease in killings in the context of anti-drug operations, the office continues to receive allegations of unlawful killings and other human rights violations by members of the Philippine National Police.”

Human rights organizations claim more than 20,000 people have been killed since Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte took office in 2016 and carried out his “war on drugs.” Human Rights Watch says at least 2,555 of the killings were carried out by the Philippine National Police.

Bongbong Marcos succeeded Duterte as president in June.

Al-Nashif noted an inter-agency panel was established to review 5,655 anti-drug operations during which deaths occurred. But she said none of the cases investigated by the panel has resulted in convictions.

“Numerous victims and their families still await justice,” she said. “So, in the time remaining in the Joint Program, together with other efforts, concrete progress on accountability must occur to help bring about human rights reforms that will prevent recurring violations.”

Al-Nashif said she welcomed the commitment of the new administration following the May election to the implementation of the Joint Program, which is now at its midpoint.

In response, Secretary of Justice of the Philippines Jesus Crispin Remulla assured the acting high commissioner that his government was undertaking transformational reforms of its justice and law enforcement sectors. He said the new president is tackling illegal drugs by focusing on apprehending and punishing the criminal masterminds, not small-scale users on the street.