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UN High Commissioner for Human Rights calls for accountability for thousands of deaths in Philippines ‘War on Drugs’

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet’s, has called for accountability for deaths which could number over 25,000, caused by the Philippine government’s, “Double Barrel” campaign which ran from 1 July 2016 to the 31 January 2020.

The UN Human Rights office has also linked this campaign to the deaths of 73 children, one of which was as young as five months old.

Bachelet has raised concerns over anti-drug operations which have been carried out “without due regard for the rule of law, due process and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs. The report finds that the killings have been widespread and systematic – and they are ongoing”, she states.



The UN High Commissioner has also raised concerns of “near-impunity” for illegal executions by police during these operations.

In the UN report, they highlight how the Philippines Police Internal Affairs Service (IAS) has launched over 4,580 investigations into deaths in these operations but the government has only cited one case in which three police officers were convicted of unlawful killing.

Bachelet stressed:

“The State has an obligation to conduct independent investigations into the grave violations we have documented. In the absence of clear and measurable outcomes from domestic mechanisms, the Council should consider options for international accountability measures.”


Philippines response

Philippines Justice Minister, Menardo Guevarra, has rejected the UN’s findings stating the report

“find no anchor in a system that provides every avenue to examine, establish and pursue a claim of wrongdoing by a State actor, if such claim is substantiated with facts”.

President Duterte has pledged to make the Philippines drug-free and claims “widespread support” across the country.


International Accountability

On 30 June 2020, she urged vigilance on the deteriorating human rights situation in the Philippines and called for a consideration of international accountability measurements. The UN Human Rights Council tweeted:

“I urge @UN_HRC to remain active & vigilant on the situation in the #Philippines – @mbachelet: In the absence of clear & measurable outcomes from domestic mechanisms, the Council should consider options for international accountability measures”.

In February 2018, the International Criminal Court stated that they would open a preliminary investigation into the situation in the Philippines and analyse crimes allegedly committed in the State, since at least 1 July 2016, during the Philippines’ “war on drugs”.


Anti-terror legislation dilutes human rights safeguards

During the UNHRC’s 44th session, Bachelet raised concerns over President Rodrigo Duterte over new anti-terror legislation.

The UN human rights office has stated that the proposed 2020 Anti-Terrorism Act, “dilutes human rights safeguards, broadens the definition of terrorism and expands the period of detention without warrant from three to 14 days, extendable by another 10 days”,

Bachelet stated on the bill;

“The recent passage of the new Anti-Terrorism Act heightens our concerns about the blurring of important distinctions between criticism, criminality and terrorism”.

She further added:

“The law could have a further chilling effect on human rights and humanitarian work, hindering support to vulnerable and marginalized communities…So I would I urge the President to refrain from signing the law, and to initiate a broad-based consultation process to draft legislation that can effectively prevent and counter violent extremism, but which contains some safeguards to prevent its misuse against people engaged in peaceful criticism and advocacy.”

Read more from the UN News and read the full UN report here.

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