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UN rights council launches probe on slays blamed on Duterte’s war on drugs

The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Thursday to set up an investigation into thousands of killings in President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called 'war on drugs'—a step that activists said was long overdue.

Duterte's government said that around 6,600 people had been killed by police in shootouts with suspected drug dealers since Duterte was elected in 2016, on a platform of crushing crime.

Activists pegged the death toll at more than 27,000.

A resolution, led by Iceland, was adopted at the forum in Geneva by a vote of 18 countries in favour and 14 against, including China, with 15 abstentions, including Japan.

"We have put forward a balanced text with a very modest ask – simply requesting the High Commissioner to prepare a report for discussion by June next year," Iceland's ambassador Harald Aspelund told the forum.

Iceland joined the 47-member council last year after the United States quit.

The Philippines delegation lobbied against the resolution, which asked national authorities to prevent extrajudicial killings and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet to report back on her findings in a year.

Philippines Ambassador Evan Garcia took the floor again after the vote to read a statement by the Manila foreign ministry.

"The temptation is strong to walk away from all this, with well-deserved contempt for the minority of countries that have the least moral standing to raise their false issues to the discredit of the Human Rights Council," Garcia said.

"But the Philippines remains true to the cause of human rights. We will continue to work with Council to advance a noble mandate to respect, protect and fulfil human rights and rescue it from misuse," he added.

Told of a draft resolution pending a UNHRC vote, President Rodrigo Duterte on said he would study whether to allow United Nations investigators to the Philippines to investigate the deaths linked to his war on drugs.

"Let them state their purpose and I will review," Duterte said.

‘Dagdag sa intriga’

Duterte, nonetheless, shared what he thought of a UN investigation.

"Dagdag lang sila sa intriga," Duterte said.

"They better go to the media and the media will tell them the truth. Eh, ipalabas ninyo ‘yung footages ninyong lahat and all, and that will clear everybody," he told reporters in Malacañang.

The National Union of People's Lawyers (NUPL) and the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan) welcomed the resolution.

"It is an initial benchmark victory of sorts in the long and arduous search for justice and brings a ray of hope that sooner or later the rampant extrajuducial killings will stop and that impunity will eventually cease to reign," NUPL secretary general Edre Olalia said.

‘Hard, perilous work’

Olalia added the "hard and perilous work" still needs to be done to document fully and freely the killings and the rights violations.

"Vigilance we must hold on to. The Duterte government must not only toe the line of civility and humanity but need to rectify a lot of wrongs. And that accountability must be exacted in time.

Ina separate statement, Bayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. called on the Duterte administration to respect the UNHRC resolution and "refrain from acts of intimidation and retaliation directed at UN rapporteurs."—Reuters with Virgil Lopez/LDF/NB, GMA News