UN rights commissioner ‘gravely concerned’ over PH killings

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United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zei Ra’ad Al Hussein. (FILE PHOTO)

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, September 12) — The United Nations (UN) human rights chief on Tuesday expressed grave concern over the spate of killings in the Philippines.

In his opening speech before the 36th Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zei Ra’ad Al Hussein cited there is a lack of respect for due process in the country.

“In the Philippines, I continue to be gravely concerned by the President's open support for a shoot-to-kill policy regarding suspects, as well as by the apparent absence of credible investigations into reports of thousands of extrajudicial killings, and the failure to prosecute any perpetrator,” Al Hussein said.

He also took note of the August 16 killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, which Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre considered an “isolated case”.

“I am also shocked by President Duterte's threat to bomb schools for indigenous children in the southern Philippines, which he said were teaching children to rebel against the government,” he added.

Last July, President Rodrigo Duterte threatened to bomb Lumad-run community schools in the provinces, claiming they were teaching students to rebel against the government.

Al Hussein also voiced concern over the case of Senator Leila de Lima, who has been detained since February 24 over her alleged involvement in drug trade at the New Bilibid Prison during her time as Justice chief. De Lima was a fierce critic of the President.

“Many human rights defenders who are the honor of their country face a growing number of death threats, and I call on the government to ensure they are accorded full protection and the right to freedom of expression and peaceful assembly without reprisals,” he said.

Al Hussein urged the administration to comply with country’s international human rights obligations.

Palace slams UN rights chief

Malacañang refuted the the UN High Commissioner’s allegations.

“We are deeply concerned with the UNHCR Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein’s sweeping statements during the UNHR Council 36th session, citing instances bereft of factual basis,” Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella said in a statement.

Abella said Al Hussein’s claims run counter to what President Duterte has ordered, saying he missed their context.

“The President has categorically and repeatedly said that there is no shoot-to-kill order. All drug killings are subject to investigations,” he said. 

On the issue on bombing indigenous schools, Abella said it would be better to focus on the Duterte administration's efforts for their education, claiming their program will receive P130.43 million to support almost three million indigenous students.

Abella also noted that De Lima’s case is not politically motivated.

“For the record, it is the court, which is independent from the executive, which ordered the arrest of Senator De Lima for drug trafficking charges and for allegedly receiving money from drug dealers at the National Penitentiary,” he said.

“The objective of the President’s campaign against illegal drugs is to preserve the lives of the Filipino people, to prevent the destruction of Filipino families, and to protect the Philippines from becoming a narco-state,” he added.

Last May, the Philippine delegation defended the campaign against drugs at the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in Geneva, Switzerland. It denied the existence of state-sponsored killings of drug traffickers and criminals.

Foreign Affairs Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano assured the UNHRC of the country’s commitment to uphold human rights.