GENEVA — The U.N. Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to set up an investigation into mass killings during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called ‘war on drugs,’ a step that activists said was long overdue.
Duterte’s government says that around 6,600 people have been killed by police in shootouts with suspected drug dealers since he was elected in 2016 on a platform of crushing crime. Activists say the death toll is at least 27,000.
The first-ever resolution on the Philippines, led by Iceland, was adopted by a vote of 18 countries in favor and 14 against, including China, with 15 abstentions, including Japan.
“This is not just a step towards paying justice for the thousands of families of victims of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines, but it is also a message that we collectively send out to those who have praised President Duterte,” said Ellecer “Budit” Carlos of the Manila-based rights group iDefend.
“This war on drugs, as we have repeatedly said, it’s a sham war,” he told a news briefing in Geneva.
Filipino activists say tens of thousands are being killed as police terrorize poor communities, using cursory drug “watch lists” to identify suspected users or dealers, and executing many of them under the guise of sting operations.
Myca Ulpina, a 3-year-old killed on June 29 near Manila, was among the latest and youngest known victims of the crackdown. Police say her father Renato had used his daughter as a human shield.
The Philippines delegation lobbied hard against the resolution, which asks national authorities to prevent extrajudicial killings and cooperate with U.N. human rights boss Michelle Bachelet, who is to report her findings in June 2020.
Philippines Ambassador Evan Garcia, speaking after the vote, read a statement by his foreign ministry rejecting the resolution as “politically-partisan and one-sided”. His country is among the council’s 47 members.
Garcia said the Duterte administration was committed to upholding justice, adding: “We will not tolerate any form of disrespect or acts of bad faith. There will be consequences, far-reaching consequences.”
Laila Matar of Human Rights Watch criticized his comments.
“It was quite clear that they threatened consequences for those who had supported the resolution, which in turn makes us concerned for the many human rights defenders, civil society activists and journalists on the ground,” she told the briefing.
Duterte, asked by reporters in Manila whether he would allow access to U.N. rights officials to investigate, said: “Let them state their purpose and I will review it.”—Reporting By Stephanie Nebehay and Marina Depetris; Additional reporting by Jerome Morales and Karen Lema in Manila; writing by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Tom Miles and Kevin Liffey