Drug war victims call for stronger UN efforts in the Philippines

September 22, 2023

GENEVA, SWITZERLAND — “War on drugs” victims are urging the United Nations (UN) to take a more proactive stance in the Philippines, particularly in investigating killings during the previous Duterte administration that continue until the present Marcos administration. At the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council, the Philippine UPR Watch is lobbying for a comprehensive, relevant, and participatory review of the UN Joint Programme (UNJP), where the UN provides technical assistance to the state.

“The killings continue. If the ‘war on drugs’ was effective, the proliferation of illegal drugs would no longer be an issue. If the domestic investigation processes were efficient, I wouldn’t be here asking for help again,” said Amy Jane Lee, whose husband was among the thousands killed in the “war on drugs” campaign during the presidency of Rodrigo Duterte.

Although there was an inclusion of a human rights component in the UNJP, the programme has been insubstantial in bringing about changes in the country’s drug policies, with the killings continuing under the Marcos administration unchecked and unprosecuted.

Lee, a member of Rise Up for Life and for Rights, was in Geneva as the UN Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights (OHCHR) publicized its report on human rights challenges in addressing and countering all aspects of the world drug problem. Rise Up was among those which submitted inputs to the OHCHR and was cited in the report, particularly about human rights violations “resulting from the militarization of anti-drug operations that disproportionately impact the poorest and most marginalized sectors of society.”

The UN OHCHR report also stated that: “In most cases, accountability for human rights violations and access to effective remedies for victims and communities remains lacking.”

“The heat is on the Philippines, with UN special rapporteurs noting concern over recent developments in the Philippines, on top of the International Criminal Court (ICC) investigating the extrajudicial killings committed during the Duterte administration’s drug war,” said Atty. Kristina Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL)-National Capital Region. The NUPL represents victims of the “war on drugs” in proceedings before the ICC.

Lee and Philippine UPR Watch called on missions of state members of the ICC to support the investigation being conducted by the Office of the Prosecutor. Conti emphasized the continuing obligation of the Philippine government to cooperate with the court. “It is logically inconsistent for the Philippines to cooperate with the UN but not the ICC,” she said.

Philippine UPR Watch also reiterated its call for the UN through the OHCHR to continue their monitoring and reporting on the situation of human rights in the Philippines, with the killing of a lawyer in Abra, and the abduction and arbitrary detention of two environmental activists in Bataan.