A GROUP of 39 countries has raised “serious concern” regarding the human rights situation in the Philippines amid President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.
In a joint statement released during the UN Human Rights Council’s 36th Session in Geneva this week, a group of European nations, Australia, the US and the UK emphasised that the Philippines needs to investigate all killings, combat a climate of impunity, and protect human rights defenders (HRDs).
At least 7,000 people have been killed in anti-drug operations since Duterte took power last June according to official police statistics, with some rights groups estimating the figure is more like 13,000.
“We urge the government to pursue investigations of alleged human rights violations and abuses and to create a safe and secure environment for indigenous communities, journalists and HRDs,” said the statement read by Iceland’s representative to the Human Rights Council (HRC).
The Philippines is one of the most dangerous places on earth for journalists, concerns over their safety are heightened under the Duterte administration because the President has actively encouraged violence against the media.
The government-controlled lower house of Philippines parliament recently voted to award the national Commission on Human Rights (CHR) – which has been investigating widespread allegations of abuses during the war on drugs – just US$20 budget for 2018.
The decision was later overturned after an appeal from the CHR’s chairman, despite a key government figure calling the body “useless” and past threats from Duterte to shut it down completely. The National Commission on Indigenous Peoples also had its budget restored.
The HRC members’ statement also called upon the government to work with the UN and civil society organisations to “promote and protect human rights, including by welcoming a visit from the SR [Special Rapporteur] on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, without preconditions or limitations.”
The Philippines has invited UNSR Agnes Callamard to investigate extrajudicial killings, but only on the condition that can be personally interrogated by Duterte in a public debate. Duterte has repeatedly cursed Callamard, calling her a “son of a bitch” and “stupid.”
Foreign minister Alan Peter Cayetano on Thursday told US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson that the Philippines had “nothing to hide”, was open to an “independent and fair” investigation of its human rights situation.
Cayetano also thanked Washington for US$2 million in support of the drugs war, reported the state Philippine News Agency.
After record numbers of killings during a major, nationwide drug operation in August, Manila police spokesman Colonel Erwin Margarejo said: “Let’s kill another 32 every day. Maybe we can reduce what ails this country.”
Duterte has even said the police should kill his own son, Davao City’s Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte, who stands accused of being involved with shipments of illicit drugs from China.