U.N. rights chief: Deaths in PH anti-drug operations a ‘most serious concern’

MANILA, Philippines – United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Monday, June 24, expressed concern over the “extraordinarily high number of deaths” in the Philippines in the context of President Rodrigo Duterte’s continuing anti-illegal drugs campaign. 

"Even the officially confirmed number of 5,425 deaths would be a matter of most serious concern for any country," she said in a statement delivered during the 41st session of the council in Geneva, Switzerland. 

“My office is following the situation of human rights in the Philippines very closely,” Bachelet added. 

The number cited in the rights chief’s statement only covers suspected drug personalities killed during police operations, as stated by the government. Human rights groups peg the total death toll to more than 20,000 to include those killed vigilante-style. (READ: The Impunity Series) 

Out of all the killings, Rappler found that the government has let thousands go unsolved.

Bachelet also said she supports the calls of UN special rapporteurs for the UN Human Rights Council to conduct an independent investigation into the killings. 

“There should also be comprehensive and transparent information from the authorities on the circumstances around the deaths, and investigations related to allegations of violations,” she said, adding that transparency “could dispel any false allegations and help regain trust for the authorities.” 

Human Rights Watch (HRW) echoed the calls of both Bachelet and UN experts.

“States at the Human Rights Council should urgently follow through and support the resolution initiated by Iceland, putting Philippines on the council’s agenda,” HRW deputy director Laila Matar said. 

“The killings continue in the Philippines on a daily basis and action by the UN’s premier human rights body is crucial to stem the violence ensure accountability,” she added.

Duterte’s so-called war on drugs has earned criticism from both local and international organizations, which hit the disregard for human lives in the implementation of the campaign.

The Supreme Court is expected to decide on petitions seeking to declare unconstitutional the campaign against illegal drugs.

The International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor, meanwhile, is also closely following the situation as it conducts a preliminary investigation Rappler.com

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.

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