UN rights head slams Duterte for ordering police to snub drug probe

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Local and international human rights groups have criticized the administration's drug war since it began in July 2016 when Duterte took over the presidency.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, March 8) —The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) chief called out President Rodrigo Duterte for ordering the police to ignore investigators of the country's drug war.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein also hit Duterte for the "continuous vilification" of Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard, who frequently criticized the anti-drug campaign.

"The government has a duty to uphold human rights and to engage with persons appointed by this Council," Al Hussein said at the UNHRC's 37th session. "I am concerned by deepening repression and increasing threats to individuals and groups with independent or dissenting views, including opposition senators, current and former public officials, the Commission on Human Rights, human rights defenders and journalists."

Al Hussein said Duterte's authoritarian approach damages efforts to strengthen the country's rule of law. He also condemned Duterte's remarks against women in the New People's Army.

Duterte earlier warned the police that human rights investigators could "produce lies" out of their statements to cater to "the angle that they would like it to."

READ: Duterte tells police to ignore UN human rights probers of drug war

Meanwhile, Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque was quick to respond to Al Hussein's comments, saying government continues to observe human rights.

"Ang sinasabi lang namin, hindi naman po binabalewala ang soberanya pati diyan sa UN Human Rights Council. Kailangan po pumayag ng mga bansa kung nais mag-imbestiga ng mga rapporteurs. Ang hindi po mapatawad natin is si Callamard na pumasok ng Pilipinas uninvited, and made her conclusions na para bagang nag-imbestigasyon siya," he said.

[Translation: What we are saying is, we're not disregarding sovereignty even at the UN Human Rights Council. The country must give permission to rapporteurs before they investigate. We cannot forgive Callamard for entering the Philippines uninvited, and (she) made her conclusions as if she conducted an investigation.]

Roque said Callamard's actions caused government to lose trust in some UN rapporteurs.

"My reply to his excellency, the prince of Jordan is, it's a two-way street. The entire human rights mechanism of the UN is built around sovereignty. It will not work if rapporteurs become untrustworthy as far as sovereign states are concerned," he claimed.

Local and international human rights groups have criticized the administration's drug war since it began in July 2016 when Duterte took over the presidency. Government data show around 4,000 drug suspects were killed in operations, but the groups believe the number are as high as 13,000 - including those killed in vigilante-style executions.