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

(Geneva) – The United Nations Human Rights Council should establish an independent international investigation on extrajudicial killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said today, joining dozens of other human rights and civil society groups worldwide in calling for an investigation. The council will convene its 45th session on September 14, 2020.

On August 27, 62 human rights and civil society groups sent a letter to UN member and observer countries at the Human Rights Council to express their “continued grave concern over ongoing extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations” in the Philippines. Over 30 groups from the Philippines signed the letter, representing much of the country’s human rights and civil society movement.

“The several dozen Philippine and international groups calling for an investigation into the Philippines is a remarkable show of solidarity that members of the UN Human Rights Council should not ignore,” said Laila Matar, deputy Geneva director at Human Rights Watch. “The extrajudicial killings and other severe rights abuses in the Philippines continue unabated, and the groups endorsing this letter are saying enough is enough.”

The four-page letter and its six-page annex outline the “grave concern over ongoing extrajudicial executions and other serious human rights violations in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ in the Philippines, fueled by incitement to violence and discrimination by the highest levels of government with near-total impunity.” The groups urged the council to respond “robustly” to the recent report on the situation in the Philippines by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The groups criticized the Duterte administration for seeking to evade accountability and encouraging violent attacks against drug suspects, activists, lawyers, journalists, church leaders, trade union leaders, and Indigenous community and peasant leaders. They noted the brutal murders this month of a rights defender, Zara Alvarez, on August 17, and a peasant leader, Randall Echanis, on August 10.

Since Duterte took office in 2016, at least 8,663 people have been killed in his “war on drugs,” according to the June report by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Philippines rights monitors and Human Rights Watch believe the actual number could be three times as high. Only a handful of prosecutions have made progress, and only one case implicating police has resulted in a conviction, OHCHR said.

During the interactive dialogue at the 44th session of the Human Rights Council in June, the Philippine government dismissed allegations that its forces are behind these killings and claimed that it was doing all it could to uphold and respect human rights.

In the same dialogue, Menardo Guevarra, the Philippines justice secretary, stated the government had created a panel that he claimed would review nearly 6,000 killings by police officers. Human Rights Watch believes that the surprise announcement was a ruse to discourage council member states from taking further action.

“The Duterte administration is once again pulling out all the stops to get the Philippines out of the spotlight and off the agenda of the Human Rights Council,” Matar said. “States should not buy into Manila’s misleading campaign and instead demand accountability through a strong resolution that recognizes that the human rights situation in the Philippines has not improved and ensures investigations.”