Philippines' 'heavy-handed' approach on drug war, security threats led to human rights violations – UN report

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The UN agency noted that human rights concerns in the Philippines "have become more acute in recent years," citing the widespread killings of alleged drug suspects. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, June 4)— The Philippine government's "heavy-handed" focus on the battle against illegal drugs and security threats has led to some "serious" human rights violations in the country, according to a new report by the United Nations' Human Rights Office.

In a 26-page report released Thursday, the UN agency noted that human rights concerns in the Philippines "have become more acute in recent years," citing the widespread killings of alleged drug suspects. Deaths of several human rights defenders have also been documented in the past few years, including in the first quarter of 2020, when the country started to battle the COVID-19 crisis.

“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,” read the the report, which was mandated by a UN Human Rights Council resolution.

"This focus has permeated the implementation of existing laws and policies and the adoption of new measures – often at the expense of human rights, due process rights, the rule of law, and accountability," it further noted.

The document likewise pointed to other rights concerns including the filing of charges against political opponents, and red-tagging and incitement to violence, among others. It also cited how a "major media network was forced to stop broadcasting after being singled out by the authorities," apparently referring to the controversial shutdown of media giant ABS-CBN.

"The response to COVID-19 has seen the same heavy-handed security approach that appears to have been mainstreamed through the ramped-up drug war and counter-insurgency imperatives," the report added.

In line with these, the agency called for independent and impartial probes into the alleged human rights violations in the country, adding that the UN High Commissioner "stands ready to assist credible efforts towards accountability."

It also urged Philippine officials to continue upholding and protecting the rights of citizens, and asked for a review of policies and legislation in relations to narcotics.

Human rights advocates have repeatedly slammed President Rodrigo Duterte's flagship anti-drug campaign, which has led to the death of thousands of suspected users and dealers.

Government data shows over 6,000 people have been killed in anti-illegal drug operations since Duterte took office in July 2016. Local and international rights groups, however, say thousands more have died in extrajudicial killings, a claim the government has repeatedly denied.

Malacañang has no immediate comment on the UN report.

Its release comes on the heels of Congress' passage of the controversial anti-terrorism bill, which seeks to expand the definition of terrorism, and proposes stiffer penalties for those found engaging in such acts.

Netizens have voiced out concerns over the hasty passage of the measure, saying the proposed law may be used to target those who express dissent against the government. Officials have earlier assured that citizens have nothing to worry about the bill, as there are several safeguards under the Constitution.

Read the full report here.