The United Nations rights body on Thursday adopted a resolution calling for a probe into the human rights situation in the Philippines, which would include killings under the president’s so-called war on drugs.
The measure, led by Iceland, was adopted 18-14 with 15 abstentions during the 41st regular session of the 47-member UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, drawing angry reaction from the Philippines.
The resolution calls on President Rodrigo Duterte’s government for measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and forced disappearances and cooperate with the UN by allowing the visits of its human rights experts to the country without intimidation.
The resolution also requests UNHRC chief Michelle Bachelet to present to the council by June 2020 a report on the rights situation in the Philippines.
Bachelet in her opening remarks denounced the alleged extra-judicial executions in the Philippines and said the 5,425 deaths confirmed by the government in its anti-drug campaign must be a cause for great alarm.
She said the Filipino authorities must provide complete and transparent information on the circumstances of these deaths along with the details on the investigations to dispel any false accusation.
Presenting the resolution, Iceland said it tried to avoid confrontation with the Philippines and did not propose setting up any permanent body dedicated to monitoring the incidents in the country, be it a rapporteur or a special commission.
Iceland said the decision to present a resolution was taken after two years of unsuccessful contacts with the Philippine government.
The Philippines rejected the resolution. Its Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin Jr in a statement questioned its validity, calling out the “arrogance” of Western states, and saying it was “not a triumph of human rights but a travesty of them”.
“Do not presume to threaten states with accountability for a tough approach to crushing crime,” Locsin said. “We will not tolerate any form of disrespect or acts of bad faith. There will be consequences; far-reaching ones.”
The diplomat said the Philippines didn’t walk away from the council but decided to "remain true to the cause of human rights”.
Duterte’s government had, ahead of the vote, warned that it would not allow any UN representative to enter the country and any investigation would be considered an interference in its internal affairs.
Global rights groups, which have been alleging Philippine security forces of widespread extra-judicial killings in their campaign against drug dealers, welcomed the UN resolution.
Nonprofit Amnesty International particularly released a report on Monday alleging that no accountability had been fixed on government officials with over 27,000 people killed in the drug war – although the police have only acknowledged 6,600 deaths in anti-narcotics operations.
Amnesty International director for Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin on Thursday said the UN vote was a “crucial step towards justice” as it “brings hope to thousands of grieving families in the Philippines and the Filipinos bravely defying the war on drugs".
Human Rights Watch said the UN resolution was “crucial” for holding the Duterte government accountable.
Laila Matar, deputy Geneva director at HRW, said the resolution was "a modest but vital measure".
“It signals the start of accountability for thousands of ‘drug war’-related killings and other abuses, and will provide hope to countless survivors and families of victims.”