Rights groups press for overdue accountability on drug war killings, attacks on rights defenders at UNHRC

As President Rodrigo Duterte prepares for his defense against the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) investigation into the situation in the Philippines, human rights alliance Karapatan together with international partners asserted in oral statements delivered before the 48th session of United Nation Human Rights Council (UNHRC) that an independent international investigation into the country is “overdue” amid the continuing impunity in the killings in the sham drug war as well as the worsening attacks against human rights defenders.

In a joint oral statement at the 48th UNHRC session’s Item 10 general debates on October 7, 2021, Karapatan and the Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development expressed concern about the lack of “immediate, direct and concrete responses to justice and accountability in the country” as the groups called into question the Philippine government’s sincerity in engaging the UN Joint Programme as part of the implementation of the UNHRC resolution on technical cooperation and capacity building.

“Domestic accountability mechanisms have been inadequate and unresponsive to the dire needs of victims for justice and accountability. The drug war panel has yet to issue a report, nearly two years after it was announced. The work of the inter-agency committee on Administrative Order 35 on extralegal killings has resulted in the dismissal of cases against perpetrators in 33% of its cases,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay stated.

Karapatan commented that the drug war panel’s prioritization of cases involving 154 cops involved in the deaths of 52 individuals is a step which is “too little and too late.” Palabay said these cases only comprise at least .9% of the 5,655 cases of deaths in the drug war mentioned by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in June 2020.

Meanwhile, in the same general debates, Karapatan Deputy Secretary General Roneo Clamor delivered the joint oral statement of Karapatan and global civil society alliance Civicus: “We have seen no human rights progress on the ground in the Philippines, and the crisis of accountability persists, the UN national joint programme for human rights adopted in July 2021, has minimal prospects to improve the situation, particularly given the obvious lack of political will to do so.”

“Widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects continue; accountability for these actions are non-existent,” Clamor continued, as he cited the killings of activists following reports of being red-tagged, the arbitrary detention of 64-year-old human rights worker Teresita Naul on fabricated charges, the incarceration of Senator Leila de Lima for her actions to investigate the killings in the drug war, and the enactment of the draconian Anti-Terrorism Act as a means to criminalize dissent.

Along with the oral statements delivered by Palabay and Clamor, Philippine human rights groups and solidarity formations led by the Geneva Forum for Philippine Concerns, Migrante – Switzerland along with members of Anakbayan and Gabriela in Switzerland staged a mass action outside the UN Office at Geneva to press the UNHRC to act and conduct and independent international investigation into the deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines.