Pubdate: Fri, 12 Jul 2019
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2019 The New York Times Company
Author: Nick Cumming-Bruce


GENEVA - The United Nations' top human rights body voted on Thursday
to examine thousands of alleged extrajudicial police killings linked
to President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs in the Philippines, a
campaign that rights groups around the world have denounced as a
lawless atrocity.

The United Nations' 47-member Human Rights Council supported a
resolution advanced by Iceland that turned a spotlight on wide-ranging
abuses, including killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary
arrests, and persecution of rights activists, journalists, lawyers and
members of the political opposition.

Despite fierce opposition from Philippine officials, 18 countries
backed the resolution, while 14 opposed it and 15 others abstained.

The Philippine foreign minister, Teodoro Locsin, in a statement read
by his ambassador in Geneva, denounced the resolution as a travesty of
human rights that came "straight from the mouth of the queen in Alice
in Wonderland."

"Do not presume to threaten states with accountability for a tough
approach to crushing crime" in which some countries were complicit and
others tolerant, he said.

The resolution stops short of setting up a full-fledged commission of
inquiry, but calls on the United Nations human rights chief, Michelle
Bachelet, to prepare a comprehensive report for delivery to the
council in a year's time. That would set the stage for tougher
follow-up action if abuses continued unabated, diplomats said.

"It's a modest resolution, but it is a very critical step to putting
the Philippines on the track to accountability, and to show that the
killing of thousands of drug war victims has not gone unnoticed by the
international community," said Laila Matar, deputy director of Human
Rights Watch's group monitoring the United Nations.

In the run-up to Thursday's vote, Philippine diplomats lobbied
fiercely to dissuade council members from supporting what they
considered to be a hostile resolution. They fired off memorandums to
diplomatic missions in Geneva challenging the initiative as an abuse
of Human Rights Council procedures and a bad use of resources.

"I have never seen a countercampaign of the level of this one by the
Philippines," Ms. Matar said.

In light of that effort, supporters of the resolution considered it
something of a victory that so many countries abstained rather than
opposed the measure. The vote came just days after one of the drug
war's youngest victims, 3-year-old Myca Ulpina, was killed in a police

The Philippine government has acknowledged at least 6,600 deaths in
the antidrug campaign since 2016, but human rights groups believe the
death toll is much higher.

United Nations human rights experts called last month for an
investigation into the "staggering number" of extrajudicial killings,
which the Philippines' human rights commission has estimated could
exceed 27,000.

Amnesty International, in a report last week, described Mr. Duterte's
war on drugs as "nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise"
mainly targeting the poor.

"It is not safe to be poor in President Duterte's Philippines. All it
takes to be murdered is an unproven accusation that someone uses, buys
or sells drugs," said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International's
regional director for East and Southeast Asia. "It is time for the
United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act
decisively to hold President Duterte and his government

Mr. Duterte is scheduled to deliver his annual state of the nation
address later this month, so the resolution "comes at a most pressing
and opportune time," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of a
Philippine human rights group, Karapatan. "This is not the end-all,
be-all of our efforts to exact accountability, but we take it as a
critical start."

Any inquiry looks set to infuriate Manila. Mr. Duterte has fired off
insults at United Nations human rights experts, and the government
sought to have the expert on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria
Tauli-Corpuz, declared a terrorist when she criticized the
government's actions.

The Human Rights Council resolution underscores the outsized influence
small countries can wield - in particular, the surprising role of
Iceland, with fewer than 400,000 people. Since taking the seat left
vacant when the United States withdrew from the council last year,
Iceland has actively supported several contentious resolutions that
many other nations have avoided, for fear of retaliation by powerful

Iceland took the lead on a series of statements of concern on the
Philippine drug war, supported an investigation into abuses in civil
war in Yemen, backed calls for an international inquiry into the
killing of Jamal Khashoggi by agents of Saudi Arabia, and this week
joined a statement critical of China's treatment of Muslims in
Xinjiang province.
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