UN reports ‘widespread human rights violations, persistent impunity’ in Philippines

UN Human Rights Office on Thursday released a report on the “widespread human rights violations and persistent impunity” in the Philippines under the Duterte administration.

“A heavy-handed focus on countering national security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in serious human rights violations in the Philippines, including killings and arbitrary detentions, as well as the vilification of dissent,” the report said.

“While there have been important human rights gains in recent years, particularly in economic and social rights, the underpinning focus on national security threats – real and inflated – has led to serious human rights violations, reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high-level officials,” the report stated. “This focus has permeated the implementation of existing and policies and the adoption of new measures – often at the expense of human rights, due process rights, the rule of law, and accountability.”

UN Human Rights Office said at least 8,663 people have been killed since President Rodrigo Duterte launched its war on drugs in 2016, adding the real toll could be more than triple that number. 

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It also said that at least 248 human rights defenders, legal professionals, journalists, and trade unionists have been killed in relation to their work from 2015 to 2019. 

“An examination of 25 operations in which 45 people were killed in Metro Manila between August 2016 and June 2017 found that “police repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations,” suggesting some victims were unarmed at the time of their . Arrests of suspected drug offenders have also contributed to a 534 percent prison congestion rate – among the highest in the world,” it added.

The UN also raised the “red-tagging” phenomenon in the country which is “labelling individuals or groups (including human rights defenders and NGOs) as communists or terrorists – has posed a serious threat to civil society and freedom of expression.”

“The report is based on 893 written submissions, substantial input from the Government of the Philippines, analysis of legislation, police reports, court documents, videos, photos and other open source material, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses. It is due to be discussed at the next UN Human Rights Council session in Geneva.”

Read the full report here.