UN rights body to PH: 'Promptly, thoroughly' probe drug killings

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines) — A U.N. human rights committee sounded the alarm on Wednesday over the Philippines' war on illegal drugs, saying official pronouncements may be encouraging violence against drug users.

"The Committee is deeply concerned that declarations made by high ranking officials in the context of the "war on drugs" may be seen to encourage and legitimize violence against drug users, including extrajudicial killings," the report by the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural rights said in its report.

The 18-man committee presented its report following a periodic review on the state of human rights in the country during the administrations of past presidents Gloria Arroyo and Benigno Aquino III, and President Rodrigo Duterte, who took office on July 1.

"Indeed, the number of extrajudicial killings of drug suspects has drastically increased in recent months and a large number of people have been arrested and detained in already overcrowded prisons. Poor neighborhoods and individuals have been disproportionately affected in this process," the U.N. committee added.

The report did not focus solely on the war against drugs and made several recommendations on other issues involving human rights such as poverty eradication, human trafficking, homelessness, and gender equality.

The report was based on a meeting between the committee and a Philippine delegation from September 28 to 29, and the conclusions were adopted on October 7.

FULL TEXT: Concluding observations on the combined report of the Philippines

Philippine officials defended the government's war on drugs. In the September 29 meeting, Philippine delegation chief Rosemarie Edillon explained to the committee that the government's instruction "really is to observe the rules of engagement whenever a buy-bust operation is being conducted." If police are found at fault, "immediately they are relieved from their position," she said.

Department of Justice Senior State Counsel Herminia Angeles-Natividad explained that "the deaths resulting from police operation against drug users, peddlers [and those manufacturing drugs]… are not extrajudicial killings under the veil of E.O. (Executive Order) 35 [s. 2012] - [because] they are not politically motivated. These incidents are considered criminal acts."

Executive Order No. 35 was a directive signed by then-President Benigno Aquino III in 2012 that created an inter-agency committee on extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, torture and other grave violations of the right to life, liberty and security of persons. It is headed by the Department of Justice Secretary.

U.N. recommendations

On the drug war, the U.N. committee urged the government to:

"[S]top and prevent extrajudicial killings and any form of violence against drug users"

"[P]romptly and thoroughly investigate all reported cases and punish the perpetrators with sanctions commensurate with the gravity of the crime

"[T]ake all necessary measures to ensure that the fight against drug trafficking does not have a discriminatory impact on the poor and marginalized

According to figures from the Philippine National Police, 1,276 "drug personalities" were killed in police operation from July 1 to September 29. On the government side, 13 from the police and three from the military were killed over the same period.

In a separate table of police statistics, there have been 2,233 victims of murder and homicide cases from July 1 to September 27.

The committee also urged the Philippines to reconsider the criminalization of drug users, adopt a "right-to-health approach" to drug abuse, and increase the availability of treatment services.

Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella on Tuesday said the government is "quickly" shifting the national security mode into the public health mode especially regarding drugs."

More than 700,000 drug dependents surrendered to authorities in the first 100 days of President Duterte's administration which began on July 1 .

A drug rehabilitation center in Nueva Ecija which can house up to 10,000 patients will be ready to open its doors to 2,500 drug dependents by November. The center was funded by a Chinese philanthropist Huang Ru Lun, said Department of Health Secretary Paulyn Rosell-Ubial in a press conference.

Read: Major rehabilitation center opening in Nueva Ecija

Earlier, Ubial told CNN Philippines' The Source that about ?3 billion of the department's proposed ₱144 billion budget for 2017 has been allocated for "establishing four 'mega' treatment and rehabilitation centers and four regional treatment and rehabilitation centers." These additional eight facilities will augment the 13 centers that DOH has now.

Related: Government eyes ₱3 billion for drug rehab programs

Malacañang on Wednesday said it extended an invitation to UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to look into alleged extrajudicial killings in the country.

In its invitation, the Palace also urged the UN rapporteur to include in her investigation the killings of law enforcers by drug suspects so that she could obtain a better perspective of the country's war on drugs.