MANILA, Philippines — The creation of an inter-agency panel that will investigate the over 5,600 deaths in the so-called drug war of the Duterte administration is “deeply flawed” and “a ruse to shield the country from international scrutiny,” the Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday.
“The panel is deeply flawed. It will be led by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and will have among its members the very agencies–notably the police and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency–directly implicated in the ‘drug war.’” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of the HRW Asia Division.
In expressing doubts about the credibility of the inter-agency body, Robertson also noted that any panel review will be evaluated and finalized by other government agencies involved in the anti-drug campaign, including the Department of the Interior and Local Government and the DOJ.
The creation of the panel was announced by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra during the 44th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday.
“At a time when the Philippines needs a serious impartial investigation into ‘drug war’ killings, the panel is nothing more than a ruse to shield the country from international scrutiny,” said Robertson.
He explained that the creation of the panel is also a “naked attempt” to discourage the Human Rights Council from starting an independent, international investigation into drug war killings and alleged human rights violations as recommended by the UN High Commissioner and 23 UN human rights experts.
“Countries at the Human Rights Council should not be fooled,” he stressed.
During the session, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet presented her office’s report on the human rights situation in the Philippines which the council had requested last year.
She described widespread abuses against drug suspects, political activists, Indigenous Peoples, and journalists, among others, noted Robertson.
“During the session, several countries echoed the report’s findings and called for accountability. Predictably, China and other countries close to Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte rejected the report, saying only “constructive dialogue” can address human rights issues in the country,” he also pointed out.
Also at the session, the Commission on Human Rights denounced the Duterte administration’s “strong-arm approach” to enforce the so-called drug war. Human rights groups have repeatedly claimed that the actual death toll in the anti-drug campaign could be much higher than what the government reports.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International also pointed out findings of “serious rights violations” in the Philippines during the session, according to Robertson.