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iDEFEND supports the call for international independent inquiry into EJKs in the Philippines

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) concurs with the report of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the 41st Session of the Human Rights Council, regarding the persistence of extrajudicial killings and related violence in the Philippines in the context of the war on drugs. In her opening statement yesterday, she reiterated that the Office of the High Commissioner is closely following the situation, particularly the extraordinarily high number of deaths and welcomed the recent statement of eleven (11) Special Rapporteurs calling for action by the Council.

iDEFEND supports her call for a comprehensive and transparent information from the government on the circumstances around those deaths and formal investigations into allegations of human rights violations.

The war on drugs became impetus for attacks against critics of the government’s brutal campaign. An increasing number of human rights defenders and activists have become victims to “tokhang-style” executions. These targeted attacks are consistent with government’s all out campaign to debilitate dissent, as oppressive and unjust policies are railroaded on the people at the cost of their lives, livelihood, and security.

Ms. Bachelet added:

“Human rights defenders, including activists for land rights and the rights of indigenous peoples; journalists; lawyers; members of the Catholic clergy; and others who have spoken out – notably the Special Rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples – have received threats, sometimes publicly, from senior Government officials. This creates a very real risk of violence against them, and undermines rule of law, as well as the right to freedom of expression.”

In the three years of Duterte’s rule, democratic space and areas for human rights advocacy have been steadily decreasing due to the building of state apparatus which aim to strengthen the military and police powers over political freedoms and civil liberties. These include actual and proposed anti-terrorism legislation, reforms in the human security law, the use of cybercrime law against journalists, lowering the minimum age of criminal responsibility, a return of the death penalty and requirements related to NGO registration with the Securities and Exchange Commission. These can only indicate Duterte’s intent to escalate violence as he promised a bloodier war on drugs until the end of his term.

Therein lies the urgent call for an international response. An independent, international inquiry into extrajudicial killings in the context of the war on drugs will aid the Philippines in restoring critical mechanisms of transparency and accountability as well as regain ground for a more accurate assessment of the war on drugs. Such international assistance may give respite to the daily violence perpetrated on the poorest communities and against human rights defenders and activists who are helping victims’ families. An independent international probe on the summary killings may allow the people of the Philippines to finally seek a humane, evidence-based, rights-based approach to the issue of drugs in the country.