Human Rights Watch seeks UN probe of recent police killings

THE UNITED Nations (UN) should investigate the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, where more than a dozen members of left-leaning groups got arrested and killed by police this month, according to Human Rights Watch.

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at the global rights watchdog, urged the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to consider sending a rapid response unit to Manila to probe the killings.

“The Southern Luzon raids were apparent politically motivated killings that the police and military have sought to justify with unconvincing justifications that echo ‘drug war’ claims,” he said in a statement on Wednesday.

“UN member states should see through this deadly deception and press for international action that would hold the Duterte administration to account,” he added.

Nine activists were killed and six others were arrested during separate raids by police in the provinces of Laguna, Batangas, Cavite, and Rizal on Mar. 7. Civil society groups have accused authorities of using warrants to harass critics.

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The crackdown on activists came after President Rodrigo R. Duterte ordered state forces to “finish off” and “kill” communist rebels and “ignore human rights.”

Philippine National Police spokesman Brig. Gen. Ildebrandi N. Usana earlier claimed the victims had guns and resisted arrest.

M. Robertson said police have used the excuse in the government’s deadly war on drugs.

“Philippine security forces have a long history of unlawful killings, enforced disappearances and arbitrary arrests of leftist activists, human rights defenders and others,” he said.

“The victims in all of these raids belonged to groups that the government had earlier red-tagged, accusing them of being communist guerrillas or their supporters,”he added.

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra said the UN must have enough information before making a judgment.

“These incidents will be investigated either by the National Bureau of Investigation or by the Administrative Order 35 committee on extrajudicial killings,” he said in a statement.

More than half of thousands of police anti-drug operations under Mr. Duterte violated rules of engagement, Mr. Guevarra told the United Nations Human Rights Council last month.

Police claimed suspected drug pushers were killed after they resisted arrest, he said in a video message at the seventh meeting of the council’s 46th regular session.

Police also did not conduct a full examination of the weapons recovered from the raids, Mr. Guevarra said, citing the initial results of a government investigation.

Still, he rejected any attempts by the international community to meddle in Philippine affairs.

Meanwhile, the Commission on Human Rights said police claims of suspects resisting arrest need evidence.

Commissioner chief Gwen Pimentel-Gana said access to police records was a “recurring obstacle” in the independent body’s investigations of human rights violations

“This restriction makes it difficult to ascertain the veracity of police claims, as well as the extent of effort extended in investigating deaths said to be not related to law enforcement operations,” she said in a statement.

“We continue to urge the public to ask the government to do more and better in reducing the violence on the ground and in respecting the human dignity of every individual,” she added.

At least 188 activists and community organizers have been killed under the Duterte administration, human rights group Karapatan said last year. — Kyle Aristophere T. Atienza and Bianca Angelica D. Anago

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