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UN Human Rights Commissioner Criticizes Duterte's War on Drugs

  • U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.

    U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet attends a session of the Human Rights Council at the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. | Photo: Reuters

Published 7 March 2019

Bachelet, former president of Chile on two separate terms, urged for independent and impartial investigations on the reported killings.

In an annual report before the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council in Geneva, Thursday, the agency's High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet delivered criticism of Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly war on drugs.


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Bachelet urged the Philippines government to instead take a "public health approach" to minimize the death toll and comply with international human rights standards.

The United Nations official pointed out that there have been estimates of up to 27,000 killings attributed to the Philippines police, despite the official number released by the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), which is 5,050. There has been only one conviction, in 2018, among the thousands of killings

Bachelet, a two-time former president of Chile, urged for independent and impartial investigations into the war on drugs-related killings that have been reported in the Philippines.

Duterte's war on drugs has received a lot of international criticism and calls for investigations. Duterte went as far as threatening to slap the UN's special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, with an investigation for threatening the Filipino president. The International Criminal Court has already subjected Duterte to a preliminary examination to determine if the drug war constitutes crimes against humanity. 

Callamard is not the only official to be threatened, attacked or imprisoned for calling out the war on drugs, and is among a list of special rapporteurs of the UN, opposition politicians, human rights activists and journalists.

In September, Duterte voided an amnesty for Senator Antonio Trillanes, the second senator who had been incarcerated after criticizing Duterte's drug initiative.

While the drug initiative was popular when it was introduced, there has been a dramatic shift in attitude since the accusations of extrajudicial killings have mounted. Another area of criticism comes from human rights activists who point out the drug war has targeted poor people living in urban areas, adding that the initiative has failed to capture any drug kingpins or bosses.

Bachelet also expressed fear for the consequences of the country's Congress considering the option, "to reintroduce the death penalty for drug-related crimes, and reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 15, to 12 – or even 9 – years old.” 

Despite Bachelet's plea for rehabilitation, Duterte has made it known that he does not believe in drug addicts' capability to be rehabilitated, which is why the president instead takes on an iron first approach. In 2016, Duterte even responded to an opponent's comparison of him to Adolf Hitler by saying he would be "happy to slaughter" drug addicts on the same scale as Jews who were killed during the Holocaust. 

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