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The Philippines: UN Human Rights Council resolution a welcome first step towards accountability

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(Geneva/Bangkok, 11 July 2019) – The Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA) welcomes today’s UN Human Rights Council resolution on the Philippines. The resolution adopted during the 41st regular session of the UN’s premier human rights body requests the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ‘to prepare a comprehensive written report on the human rights situation in the Philippines and to present it to the Human Rights Council at its forty-fourth session’, which is to be held in June 2020. FORUM-ASIA calls on the Government of the Philippines to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner to conduct an independent and comprehensive investigation for the report as requested in the resolution.

The resolution is an attempt to initiate an independent investigation into the thousands of extrajudicial killings reported in the Philippines Government’s so called ‘war on drugs’ that began following the election of President Duterte in June 2016. According to the Government’s own estimates at least 6,600 people have been killed in this war on drugs, while other credible sources have estimated the number of casualties exceeds 27,000. The resolution urges the Philippine Government to prevent further extrajudicial killings.

‘Although the resolution falls short of our expectations for an independent, international investigation into the extrajudicial killings in the Government’s war on drugs, we welcome this resolution as an important first step towards credible investigations into the killings and accountability,’ says Rosanna Ocampo, UN Advocacy Senior Programme Officer of FORUM-ASIA.

The resolution, led by Iceland with the backing of 34 other States, was adopted by a vote of 18 in favour; 14 against; and 15 abstentions.

‘We regret that Member States like China and India voted against the resolution, in spite of the gravity of the violations in the Philippines,’ says John Samuel, Executive Director of FORUM-ASIA, ‘Their objections to this resolution makes them complicit in the killings, as well as other grave violations by the Philippines Government against human rights defenders, media, political opposition, and civil society. As
members of the Human Rights Council and regional partners, these States have an obligation to protect the citizens of the country, and not look narrowly at economic and political interests.’

The Government’s war on drugs has come with the rapid deterioration of the human rights situation and the systematic erosion of democracy in the Philippines. Human rights defenders, journalists, civil society and opposition politicians have faced threats, harassment and intimidation for criticising and demanding accountability for the killings. The Government and senior government officials, including the President himself, have resorted to inflammatory statements and disinformation campaigns to discredit and stigmatise human rights defenders and activists. This has already had serious consequences, including physical violence and killings.

The resolution further calls on the Philippines ‘to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner and the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council, including by facilitating country visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation.’ Philippine Government has repeatedly threatened UN officials for criticising or seeking accountability for extrajudicial killings in the war on drugs. Human rights defenders, civil society organisations and media have faced physical threats, harassment and intimidation for speaking out against the killings.

‘Instead of attempting to violently silence demands for justice for the thousands victims of this bloody war on drugs, if the Government has nothing to hide as it claims, it should cooperate with the UN High Commissioner to establish the facts and circumstances behind the thousands of killings and other serious human rights violations,’ says Ahmed Adam, UN Advocacy Programme Manager of FORUM-ASIA,
‘The Government must facilitate the High Commissioner to conduct a credible, comprehensive investigation without hindrance. It should allow survivors, human rights defenders, and civil society to freely cooperate with the UN in its investigation without fear of reprisal or retaliation.’


For a PDF version of this statement, click here.