Groups march to Mendiola in Manila City to commemorate the Human Rights Day on December 10, 2020. / Karapatan, Release
MANILA, Philippines — In a bid to make international bodies act on the worsening human rights situation in the Philippines, civil society organizations have launched an independent investigation into killings related to the government’s “war on drugs” and the attacks against activists and human rights defenders.
The Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines or Investigate PH was launched Thursday, marking the start of fact-finding probes into alleged rights abuses in the country.
The investigations aim to substantiate the report of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, which suggested in June 2020 that the government’s anti-narcotics campaign has resulted in serious human rights violations, including “widespread and systematic” extrajudicial killings.
The Philippine government has rejected assertions that extrajudicial killings are government policy and have asserted that killings in the “war on drugs” happened because “drug personalities” violently resisted arrest.
The Department of Justice conducted a review of drug-releated operations that resulted in deaths and has submitted its report to the Palace, which has yet to make the findings public.
“So many people have spoken up to expose these crimes against humanity but the situation is getting worse. There are more human rights abuses, more people getting killed… The human rights situation in the Philippines is deteriorating and we have a global responsibility to act,” said Lee Rhiannon, a former Australian senator.
“I joined Investigate PH to try to shine a spotlight on human rights violations that Filipino people are suffering to put an end to exploitative practice of the current regime and hold leaders accountable for their actions,” Jeanne Mirer, International Association of Democratic Lawyers president, said.
The creation of the independent international investigation was prompted by the resolution of the 47-member UNHRC on technical assistance and capacity building to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines during the council’s 45th session.
Human rights organizations were disappointed with what they deemed as a “weak resolution” as it fell short of their call for an independent and on-the-ground probe into the situation in the Philippines.
“Faced with this setback from our point of view, we decided that we will ask the global civil society to take on this task,” said Peter Murphy, chairperson of the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines.
One of the commitments of the Philippine government is to hold a three-day summit on the protection and promotion of human rights in December, which was criticized for failing to include human rights organizations and victims of abuses.
Mirer said this “spurred” the Investigate PH “because it really does expose the fact that the government is not taking it seriously to hold Human Rights Summit without any people affected by the human rights violations.”
The government acknowledges the deaths of nearly 6,000 “drug personalities” in anti-narcotics operations, all of whom were reported to have violently resisted arrest. This is significantly lower than the estimates of human rights monitors of as many as 27,000 people were killed.
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Reports to UN, ICC
Investigate PH will submit its reports and findings to the UN Human Rights Council. One final report will be released in time for the 48th UNHRC session in September when the UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet deliver an update.
The global coalition will also submit its findings to the International Criminal Court.
In a report released in December last year, ICC Prosecutor Bensouda said there is “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity of murder, torture and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm were committed in the killings linked to the government’s “war on drugs.”
Bensouda said she is expecting her decision on whether she would seek authorization to open a formal investigation into the situation in the Philippines would be out in the first half of 2021.
The commission is composed of political and religious leaders as well as lawyers, namely:
- Lee Rhiannon, former senator of Australia
- Lawyer Jeanne Mirer, president of Paris-based International Association of Democratic Lawyers
- Lawyer Jan De Lien of the Justis Lawyers Group in Belgium
- Lawyer Suzanne Adely, president of the New York-based National Lawyers Guild
- Senator Janet Rice, Australian Greens spokesperson for foreign affairs
- Rev. Dr. Chris Ferguson, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches
- Rev. Michael Blair, general secretary of United Church of Canada
- Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, general secretary of the General Board of Church & Society, the United Methodist Church
- Archbishop Joris Vercammen of the Old Catholic Church of Netherlands, and Central Committee member, World Council of Churches
- Dr. David Edwards, General Secretary of Belgium-headquartered Education International
Investigate PH is working with local organizations such as Karapatan and the National Union of People’s Lawyers.
“Killings must stop. Justice must be