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UN human rights body to probe Philippine killings

Groups call UNHRC resolution vital in holding Duterte govt accountable for thousands of slayings

 Joe Torres, Manila

Joe Torres, Manila

Updated: July 12, 2019 08:25 AM GMT
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UN human rights body to probe Philippine killings

A victim of the drug-related killings in the Philippines lies dead in an alley in the Manila suburb of Navotas in this file photo. (Photo by Vincent Go)

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The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) voted on July 11 to set up an investigation into killings in the Philippines that have been linked to the government's war on drugs.

The resolution filed by Iceland was adopted by a vote of 18 countries in favor and 14 against, including China, with 15 abstentions, including Japan.

It calls on the U.N. human rights office to present a comprehensive report on human rights in the Philippines to the council next June.

The resolution also expresses concern about the range of alleged rights violations in the country and calls on the government to cooperate with U.N. human rights mechanisms and experts.

In addition, the resolution also urges the Philippine government to "take all measures to present extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances."

It asks the government to "carry out impartial investigations and hold perpetrators accountable."

The Philippine government earlier denounced the resolution as a "divisive motion" and sought to block it.

Rights groups welcomed the resolution, describing it as "crucial for holding the government accountable" for the killings and other rights abuses.

Laila Matar, deputy director at Human Rights Watch in Geneva, said the resolution provides "hope to countless survivors and the families of victims" even as she described it as "a modest but vital measure."

Human rights group Karapatan said the adoption of the resolution is a "sign of defiance against the Philippine government's fake news, disinformation and threats."

The group's secretary-general Cristina Palabay said, however, that the resolution "will not necessarily end the policies and campaigns that have wreaked havoc on the lives of Filipino communities and families."

"The struggle for justice and accountability, amid the worsening human rights situation in this country, progresses. So much is yet to be done, but the stage is set," she said.

Philippine says resolution 'one-sided'

The Philippine government dismissed the resolution as "grotesquely one-sided, outrageously narrow and maliciously partisan."

"It reeks of nauseating politics completely devoid of respect for the sovereignty of our country," President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said.

He said the resolution was an insult to the majority of Filipinos who expressed satisfaction with Duterte's governance.

Panelo said the resolution was "designed to embarrass the Philippines before the international community." He said the countries that voted in favor were "misled" by "continuing and relentless false news."

Philippine Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr. pointed out that the resolution was approved by "a tiny minority" in the council. "Such resolutions … can and will be ignored. No consequences," he said in a tweet.

'About time,' say church leaders

Several Filipino church leaders welcomed the resolution.

"It’s about time," said Father Flavie Villanueva, a priest who has been outspoken against drug war killings. "With at least 30,000 estimated massacred or even 6,000 killed, the pattern of killings is present. It’s a state-sponsored attack and killings on the poor." 

He expressed hope that the UNHRC will not be perturbed by the Philippine government's "bullying" and for justice to be finally served for "national healing and transformation" to begin.

Father Jonash Joyohoy of the Philippine Independent Church said the resolution would be a "huge relief" to families of victims and to potential victims of rights violations.

"A sure life saver to many, although we expect the killings will continue," he said, adding that the killers might take the resolution as a "concrete signal that they are not unpunishable after all."

Philippine authorities have admitted that at least 6,600 people have been killed during police anti-drug operations since President Rodrigo Duterte came to power.

The police have sought to justify the killings on grounds that suspected drug users and dealers fought back during police operations.

Right groups, however, have placed the death toll at more than 27,000.

Marielle Lucenio contributed to this report.

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