Philippines rejects fresh call for UN probe into drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 5) — President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs is once again thrust into the international spotlight as Iceland called on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to conduct an investigation.

The European country has filed a draft resolution requesting the UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet to look into the country's human rights situation and present a "comprehensive written report" at the UNHRC's 44th session. The UN body is now on its 41st session.

Iceland's resolution, dated July 4, needs the approval of majority of the UNHRC's 47 member states. More than two dozen countries, mostly European states, are reportedly backing Iceland's proposal.

In its two-page draft resolution, Iceland called on the Philippines to cooperate with the UNHRC's possible probe, "including facilitating country visits and preventing and refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation."

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra in an earlier statement said the government is ready to face any investigation if necessary "to disabuse the minds of those who rely on or give undue credence to selective, if not biased, second-hand information."

But Malacañang in a separate statement reiterated its stance against any foreign intervention in the country's policies.

"No government of any nation knows the actual and real state of our country’s domestic affairs better than this Government. Any attempt therefore by any foreign country to interfere with how this Government maintains its peace and order, not only is an affront to their intellect but an interference with the country’s sovereignty as well," Presidential Spokesperson Salvador Panelo said. He is also Chief Presidential Legal Counsel.

Duterte has in the past repeatedly lashed out at the UN and human rights groups for criticisms on his drug war, which has left over 5,370 suspects dead in police operations. Local and international human rights groups say the anti-drug campaign has resulted in more than 20,000 extrajudicial killings, a claim the government has denied.

The killings are also being examined by the International Criminal Court (ICC), an international tribunal that could have Duterte and his officials prosecuted and jailed. Duterte has threatened to arrest ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda and her investigators if they set foot in the country, claiming that they have no jurisdiction over the Philippines.

In her opening statement at the 41st session of the UNHRC in Geneva in June, Bachelet said her office was monitoring the situation in the Philippines "very closely," stressing that the thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings in Duterte's drug war "would be a matter of most serious concern for any country."

Other human rights issues

Iceland's resolution also "urges the government of the Philippines to take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances, to carry out impartial investigations and to hold perpetrators accountable in accordance with international norms and standards including those on due process and the rule of law."

Malacañang reiterated the killings are not state-sponsored, and were either caused by drug suspects' "violent resistance," or syndicate members' refusal to let go of members who want to surrender to authorities.

"These are inevitable results when a government is sincere about ridding illegal drugs in its country and when a President has the political will to provide a safe and secure environment for his constituents," Panelo said.

The Duterte government has said it is investigating the killings, noting the murder conviction of three cops in the slay of then 17-year-old Kian delos Santos in a police operation in 2017. But human rights groups are saying this is not enough assurance justice will also be served for thousands of other victims.

Iceland also expressed concern over other forms of alleged human rights violations in the country, including arbitrary arrest and detention, and intimidation or attacks against human rights defenders, indigenous peoples, journalists, lawyers, and critics. In 2018, UN Secretary-General António Guterres' annual report to the UNHRC placed the Philippines on the list of states that intimidate and retaliate against human rights defenders.