‘Extraordinary’ number of killings put Philippines under UN scrutiny

The 41st session of the United Nations Human Council (UNHRC) included the Philippines as among the countries that need special attention, citing the high number of deaths and extrajudicial killings connected with the Rodrigo Duterte government’s campaign against drug use.

In her opening statement Monday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachenet said that her office is very closely following the human rights situation in the Philippines, adding that the high number of deaths is extraordinary and that reports of extrajudicial killings are persistent.

“Even the officially confirmed number of 5,425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country,” she said.

Bachenet said that she welcomes recent statements made by UN Special Rapporteurs calling for action by the UNHRC.

She added that Philippine authorities should provide “comprehensive and transparent information” on the circumstances around the deaths as well as investigations related to reported human rights violations in the country.

Such actions, Bachenet said, “…could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities.”

The High Commissioner added that human rights defenders as well as activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples, journalists, lawyers, members of the Catholic clergy and others who have spoken out have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior Government officials.

United National High Commissioner on Human Rights Michelle Bachelet. (UNHRC photo)

Bachenet cited the case of UN Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz who the Duterte government wanted proscribed as a terrorist for her alleged ties to the Communist Party of the Philippines.

She, along with around 600 others, has since been delisted by the government after an international denunciation of the proscription.

Threats against Tauli-Corpuz’s and other human rights defenders and activities “…creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression, Bachenet said.

The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) welcomed Bachenet’s statements, saying the High Commissioner’s tenor and tone on the Philippine human rights situation “…reflect the desired credibility, objectivity, transparency and fairness on the matter.”

“It does not only underscore the urgency and imperative of squarely and decisively addressing the issue and concerns about these [extrajudicial killings] as well as other brazen human rights violations, many disguised or legitimized by color of legality and official sanction,” NUPL president Atty Edre Olalia told Kodao.

The public interest lawyer said Bachenet’s statement also highlights the significance of parallel or alternative avenues for redress and accountability in the international community.

“We look earnestly forward to a positive response from the UN Human Rights Council during its present session in Geneva,” Olalia added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)