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Philippines in Hot Seat at UN Rights Council

Government’s Announced Review Panel for ‘Drug War’ Killings a Ruse

Delegates sit at the opening of the 41th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, June 24, 2019. © 2019 Magali Girardin/Keystone via AP

The Philippines came under scrutiny when the United Nations Human Rights Council convened in Geneva on Tuesday. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet gave the stark findings of her office’s report on the Philippines, which the council requested last year. She described widespread abuses against drug suspects, political activists, indigenous peoples, and journalists, among others.

During the session, several countries echoed the report’s findings and called for accountability. Predictably, China and other countries close to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the report, saying only “constructive dialogue” can address human rights issues in the country.

Also at the session, the Philippines Commission on Human Rights denounced the Duterte administration’s “strong-arm” approach to enforce its brutal “drug war” that has killed at least 8,663 people since July 2016. Groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also highlighted findings of serious rights violations in the Philippines.

The Philippine justice secretary, Menardo Guevarra, announced the creation of a government panel to review more than 5,600 cases of alleged extrajudicial killings in the country. But the panel is deeply flawed. It will be led by the Department of Justice and will have among its members the very agencies – notably the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency –directly implicated in the “drug war.” Moreover, any panel review will be evaluated and finalized by other government agencies involved in the anti-drug campaign, including the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the Department of Justice.

At a time when the Philippines needs a serious impartial investigation into “drug war” killings, the panel is nothing more than a ruse to shield the country from international scrutiny. The International Criminal Court could open an investigation into crimes against humanity committed up to March 17, 2019, the date when the Philippines’ withdrawal from the court took effect. It’s also a naked attempt to discourage the Human Rights Council from starting an independent, international investigation into the “drug war” killings and related violations as recommended by the UN high commissioner and 23 UN human rights experts. Countries at the Human Rights Council should not be fooled.

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