Duterte critics laud UN vote to scrutinise drug killings

MANILA, Philippines (AP) — Critics of the Philippine President’s deadly anti-drug campaign said yesterday that a vote by the United Nations’ (UN) top human rights body to look into the thousands of deaths of suspects is a crucial step toward bringing perpetrators to justice and helping end the killings.

President Rodrigo Duterte’s spokesman, however, condemned the resolution adopted by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva as Western meddling in Philippine government affairs and questioned the validity of the narrow vote. A former police chief said he was ready to have his head chopped off if the killings were state-sponsored.

About 6,600 people, most of them accused of petty drug crimes, have been killed in the crackdown that Duterte launched as his centerpiece project when he took office in mid-2016. But non-government groups claim a much higher death toll, including many suspects killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen who human rights groups suspect were deployed by police.

Duterte and the police have denied authorising extrajudicial killings. However, he has repeatedly threatened drug suspects with death in televised speeches and encouraged law enforcers to shoot suspects who fight back. He has warned that the crackdown will be more dangerous for suspects in the final three years of his six-year term. The UN Human Rights Council voted 18-14 with 15 abstentions on Thursday to approve the Iceland-initiated resolution, which called on the Philippine government to take all steps to prevent extrajudicial killings and asked the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights to prepare a comprehensive report on the Philippines. The resolution called for Philippine government cooperation, “including by facilitating country visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation.” Duterte, a former prosecutor, has repeatedly lashed out at UN human rights experts critical of his anti-drug campaign. Separately, an International Criminal Court prosecutor is examining information about the drug killings.

“The door of domestic investigation may have been shut, but the windows of international scrutiny are beginning to open up toward justice for the Filipino people,” said Senator Leila de Lima, Duterte’s most vocal critic, who was jailed two years ago on drug charges she said were fabricated to silence her.

While the UN-proposed action would be less than a commission of inquiry that activists have wanted, it would be “a clear signal to Duterte and his cohorts that truth and justice will prevail and that the perpetrators and masterminds behind the atrocities will be held accountable,” de Lima said in a statement from her detention cell.

Human rights advocates display placards during a news conference following United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution in Geneva. – AP