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UN report details widespread rights violations in Philippines ‘war on drugs’

Graphic: A police officer during an anti-drug operation

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines said it was the duty of the Government to act on the report’s findings and recommendations.

A heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations in the Philippines, including killings and arbitrary detentions, according to a report by the UN Human Rights Office.

Persistent impunity and formidable barriers to accessing justice must be urgently addressed, the report said.

The report, which followed a UN Human Rights Council resolution, noted that many of the human rights concerns it documented are long-standing, but have become more acute in recent years.

This has been manifested starkly in the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects.

Since the Government launched its campaign against illegal drugs in 2016, official figures indicate that at least 8,663 people have been killed, with some estimates putting the toll at more than triple that number.

The UN Human Rights Office has also documented that, between 2015 and 2019, at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists have been killed in relation to their work.

There has been near impunity for these killings, the report found.

The underpinning focus on national security threats – real and inflated – has led to serious human rights violations, reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high-level officials.

Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Logo Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines (CHR) said it welcomed the report of the UN High Commissioner.

"As the country's national human rights institution, we call on the government to acknowledge and address its observations with definitive steps necessary to establish transparency and accountability, especially for the number of human rights violations noted," the CHR said in a statement.

The CHR has consistently raised grave concerns over the pace and scale of deaths linked to the campaign against illegal drugs.

"We continue to condemn the harmful and invidious language of high-level officials that have encouraged hatred and incentivized violence," the CHR said.

"While the climate of impunity is not the sole creation of the current administration, present attitudes and behaviours towards human rights have allowed it to acutely manifest today."

The CHR said it was the duty of the Government to act on the report findings and recommendations.

"CHR continues to offer its partnership and cooperation towards accountability for human rights violations," the statement said.

"We urge cooperation in independent investigations, the creation of an enabling civic space, and protection of human rights defenders so we can collectively work for the human rights cause."

The CHR also urged the government to safeguard the rights of human rights defenders on the ground.

"We will be closely monitoring possible reprisals stemming from this report as we heed the High Commissioner's recommendations to improve the human rights situation of the country."

Date: 7 June 2020

Image credits

  1. A police officer during an anti-drug operation - Al Jazerra, Flickr CC