HRW: Blocking access won't stop U.N. report on PH drug war

MANILA, Philippines – Barring access to the United Nations will not hinder the creation of a comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said.

In an interview with Rappler, HRW Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said he is confident the UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) headed by Michelle Bachelet will find a way to carry out its task.

“We've seen this in many other countries all over the world…the situation is often rights-abusing government won't cooperate with UN investigations but that has not proved a barrier for doing quality reports, very deep research efforts to uncover the human rights violations,” he told Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa.  

The UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted a resolution requesting the OHCHR to write a comprehensive report on the rising killings in the Philippines, including those under President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs.  

The Duterte government, however, has explicitly said it will not allow a probe to happen, dismissing the resolution as unenforceable. 

This, however, will not impede the UN rights office from gathering information that they will present to the UNHRC by July 2022, according to Robertson. 

“UN investigations will find a way and they'll get quality information that would be verifiable and that would ultimately call into question the actions of the Duterte government,” he said. 

If the Duterte government eventually decides to block access, the team could still do remote monitoring which they have done several times, as they did for a 2018 report on Venezuela. (READ: What happened when the U.N. reviewed Venezuela's human rights situation?)

In an earlier interview, HRW Asia’s Carlos Conde said the “ball is in the court of the President” now as the government’s non-compliance and non-cooperation will further impact the country’s image. (READ: On U.N. resolution vs drug war killings: What if Duterte blocks review?)

Duterte's violent war on drugs has led to more than 5,500 suspected drug personalities killed in police operations, while human rights groups have pegged the number from 20,000 to as high as 27,000, including those killed vigilante-style. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Bachelet is expected to present her comprehensive written report on this situation during the council’s 44th session. The UN rights chief will also come up with recommendations on what to do next.

According to Robertson, the reality in the country “has been so bad during Duterte that now, the UNHRC has no choice but to act.” 

“I think there would be ongoing pressure from the HRC,” Robertson said. “I think that various governments from around the world that are concerned on the situation here would continue to make representations.” –

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.