By Robin Gomes
The United Nations rights body on Thursday narrowly passed a resolution to probe the killing of thousands of people in the Philippines in President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called “war on drugs”.
The resolution, led by Iceland, was adopted by a narrow margin at the 41st session of the UN’s Human Rights Council in Geneva. Eighteen countries voted in favour, 14 against, including China, and 15 abstained.
The Philippine government says police have killed about 6,600 people in shootouts with suspected drug dealers since Duterte was elected in 2016 on a platform of crushing crime, but rights activists claim the toll is at least 27,000.
Iceland's ambassador Harald Aspelund told the forum that they have put forward a balanced text with a very modest task - simply requesting the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to prepare a report for discussion by June next year.
The resolution calls on national authorities, including the Filipino government, to take all necessary measures to prevent extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and enforced disappearances.
The Philippine delegation lobbied against the resolution.
Ellecer "Budit" Carlos of the Manila-based rights group iDefend said that the resolution is not just a step towards paying justice for the thousands of families of victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines but is also a collective message sent out to those who have praised Duterte.
"This war on drugs, as we have repeatedly said, it's a sham war," he told a news briefing in Geneva.
Philippine activists say tens of thousands are being killed as police terrorize poor communities, using cursory drug "watchlists" to identify suspected users or dealers, and executing many in the guise of sting operations.
Police deny that, saying all their killings were in self-defence.
Last month, a three-year-old girl became one of the youngest victims of the war on drugs, after she was shot dead in a raid near Manila. Police said she had been used as a human shield by her father, but the family disputes this.
Duterte's spokesman, Salvador Panelo, questioned the validity of the resolution not backed by the majority of council members. He said that Filipinos overwhelmingly backed the president's unique leadership and approach.
Asked by reporters in Manila whether he would allow UN investigation, Duterte said, "Let them state their purpose and I will review it."
Panelo said that if the president permitted the probe and if it is carried out impartially, it would only result in the humiliation of the investigators and those who backed the resolution.