war on drugs

UN rights chief urges DOJ to release full drug war review reports

Jodesz Gavilan

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FIGHTING BACK. A relative of a drug war victim joins the protest after the prayer in 2019.

File photo by Rambo Talabong/Rappler

'I encourage publication of the panel’s findings so its work can be evaluated,' UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet says

United Nations (UN) High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday, October 7, called for transparency as the Duterte government continued to keep confidential its reports on the violent war on drugs.

In a speech before the UN Human Rights Council’s 48th session, Bachelet urged the Department of Justice-led inter-agency drug war panel to release in full its reports.

“I encourage publication of the panel’s findings so its work can be evaluated,” she said.

The much-boasted panel led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) was launched in June 2020, which human rights groups criticized as the government’s way to evade accountability.

The DOJ announced on October 3 that it found possible criminal liability in 50 drug war deaths involving around 150 policemen, but no cases would be filed yet as these have to go under another round of case build up by the National Bureau of Investigation.

DOJ’s drug war panel also remained unwilling to share case files and relevant information with the Commission on Human Rights (CHR). Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra said on October 3 that “the report itself is a confidential memo for the President.”

But Bachelet called for an opposite approach, urging the government to open its doors to CHR and other stakeholders.

“The authorities should also involve the national human rights commisison and other relevant actors, including sharing information on cases under investigation, to ensure an effective and victim-centered process,” she said.

Responding to Bachelet’s statement, Guevarra told reporters that they will “disclose the contents of the second partial report, just wait a little.”

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Continued killings

The incidents investigated by the much-boasted DOJ panel make up a minute part of the thousands of deaths recorded under President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Government data showed that 6,191 alleged drug personalities were killed in police anti-drug operations as of September 31. This number does not include victims of vigilante-style killings, which human rights group estimate to reach 27,000 to 30,000.

Bachelet expressed concerns over the still rising number of killings, as families continue to face challenges in pursuing accountability for the death of their loved ones. She also noted the reports of red-tagging of activists and media, among others. (READ: In Duterte’s drug war, justice is ‘nearly impossible’)

“Despite these steps, I remain disturbed at reports of continuing and severe human rights violations and abuses across the country, including killings,” Bachelet said.

Rights group Karapatan said that Bachelet’s observation of continued killings are “compelling reasons why the current resolution, and even the UN Joint Program, does not address the worsening situation in the country.”

“These emphasize more than ever the importance of an international independent investigation,” the group said in a statement.

The UN rights chief’s office previously released a scathing report which said that Duterte’s war on drugs was carried out without due process and that the local system wasn’t enough to exact accountability over the killings.

The International Criminal Court’s pre-trial chamber recently green-lit an investigation into Duterte’s violent campaign. In its decision, the chamber said that killings “took place in pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy.” – Rappler.com

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.