62 groups ask UN for independent probe on PH killings, human rights abuses

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, August 28) — Sixty-two local and international civil society groups are calling on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish an independent body to investigate the killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines.

“[W]e urge you to actively work towards the adoption of a resolution establishing an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed in the Philippines since 2016,” the groups said in their letter to the UNHRC dated Aug. 27.

They said this should be part of the council’s “robust” response to the June report of UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the "widespread and systematic" killings in the government's war on drugs. Bachelet had said the bloody campaign “is being 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.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra represented the government during the 44th regular session of the council. He revealed for the first time that an inter-agency panel chaired by his office had actually been looking into all the 5,655 anti-drug operations that resulted in deaths.

The 62 organizations, however, see it as a mere attempt to evade international scrutiny, thus their demand for a UN-led mechanism. They also cited recent attacks against human rights defenders, government critics, and even the press.

The Presidential Human Rights Committee Secretariat, an attached office of the Palace, urged the petitioners to engage with the government instead, but not without discrediting them.

“Not only are we are not aware of what exactly the specific advocacies of these organizations are, but most of these organizations are not even known in the Philippine human rights community, much less by the Filipino people,” the secretariat said.

Some of the petitioners are international organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Reporters Without Borders, as well as local groups Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Free Legal Assistance Group, and Karapatan, among others.

The presidential body reiterated Duterte's commitment during his fifth State of the Nation Address that the Philippines will not dodge its human rights obligations.

“Coming in from the last UNHRC session, the Philippines continues to take significant steps to further its human rights work despite the systematic vilifications that are aimed to undermine this pursuit,” it added.

The UN Human Rights Council will convene for its 45th regular session on Sept. 14.