UPDATE 2-'Near impunity' for drug war killings in Philippines, U.N. says

UPDATE 2-'Near impunity' for drug war killings in Philippines, U.N. says

Reuters  | Jun 04, 2020 21:10

UPDATE 2-'Near impunity' for drug war killings in Philippines, U.N. says

* Tens of thousands may have been killed in 4 years -report
* U.N.: Rhetoric may have been seen as "permission to kill"
* Duterte spokesman rejects "rehashed claims of impunity"

(Adds statement by Duterte spokesman, new 3rd para)
By Stephanie Nebehay
GENEVA, June 4 (Reuters) - Tens of thousands of people in
the Philippines may have been killed in the war on drugs since
mid-2016 amid "near impunity" for police and incitement to
violence by top officials, the United Nations said on Thursday.
It said the drugs crackdown, launched by President Rodrigo
Duterte after he won election on a platform of crushing crime,
has been marked by police orders and high-level rhetoric that
may have been interpreted as "permission to kill".
In Manila, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the
"rehashed claims" of impunity were unfounded.
"Law enforcers operate on strict protocols and transgressors
of the law are made accountable," he said in a statement.
Michelle Bachelet, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights,
called for independent investigations into the killings and said
her office was ready to help credible domestic Philippine or
international efforts to establish accountability.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has already opened a
preliminary investigation.
"We hope that this report and the recommendations will kind
of kick-start a system in the Philippines, to begin to address
these violations and systemic problems more effectively," Rory
Mungoven, head of the Asia Pacific section in the Geneva-based
U.N. rights office, told a news conference.
Asked whether the police killings might amount to crimes
against humanity, Mungoven said: "That would require closer and
more careful examination to reach that judgment."
Major activist groups welcomed the report. Amnesty
International called it a "damning indictment" of the war on
drugs while Human Rights Watch said it showed an "almost total
lack of accountability" and an "abject failure of domestic
justice mechanisms to function".
The U.N. report said that Philippine police, who do not need
search or arrest warrants to conduct house raids, systematically
force suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk
facing lethal force.

"NEAR IMPUNITY"
There has been only one conviction, for the 2017 murder of
Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old Manila student, it said. Three
police officers were convicted after CCTV footage stirred public
outrage, it said.
"Despite credible allegations of widespread and systematic
extrajudicial killings in the context of the campaign against
illegal drugs, there has been near impunity for such
violations," the report said.
Police say their actions in the anti-drug campaign have been
lawful and that deaths occur in shootouts with dealers resisting
arrest.
The report said some statements from the highest levels of
the government had "risen to the level of incitement to
violence".
An "overarching focus on public order and national security,
including countering terrorism and illegal drugs, (came) often
at the expense of human rights, due process rights, the rule of
law and accountability".
The report will be presented to the U.N. Human Rights
Council at its session opening on June 22.
Lawyers and activists raised the alarm this week over a new
anti-terrorism bill pushed by Duterte, warning of draconian and
arbitrary provisions that could be abused to target his
detractors. "The current act contains a very broad definition of
terrorism and the new proposed Anti-Terrorism Act takes that
even further," said Ravina Shamdasani, the report's lead author.
She said suspects could be held up to 24 days without a
warrant.
Most victims in the drug war were young poor urban males,
the report said. "The most conservative figure, based on
government data, suggests that since July 2016, 8,663 people
have been killed – with other estimates of up to triple that
number."

(Reporting and writing by Stephanie Nebehay in Geneva with
additional reporting by Karen Lema in Manila; Editing by Mark
Heinrich and Nick Macfie)

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