MANILA – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) on Tuesday said the killings committed by President Rodrigo Duterte during his stint as mayor of Davao City "constitute murder." Duterte earlier admitted to “personally killing” suspected criminals when he was still the mayor of Davao City.
"In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys (police) that if I can do it, why can't you," Duterte said in his speech at the presidential palace last week. Under renewed criticism for his admission and his controversial war on drugs, Duterte explained that he carried out the killings during a legitimate police operation against kidnappers.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Duterte’s killings “clearly constitute murder.” The UN human rights chief urged relevant Philippine authorities to launch a probe into Duterte’s admission.
“Such acts directly contravene the rights enshrined in Article III of the Philippine Constitution. The killings described by President Duterte also violate international law, including the right to life, freedom from violence and force, due process and fair trial, equal protection before the law, and innocence until proven guilty.
As a government official, if he encouraged others to follow his example, he may also have committed incitement to violence,” the UN official said. “The Philippines judicial authorities must demonstrate their commitment to upholding the rule of law and their independence from the executive by launching a murder investigation.”
Duterte has earned global condemnation for his bloody war on drugs, which has so far resulted in the deaths of over 3,000 individuals. The body count includes those who were killed by unidentified assailants. The UN official criticized Duterte for tolerating police killings, saying this fosters an environment of impunity and violence.
“Despite police investigating thousands of the deaths perpetrated by vigilantes, there is surprisingly little information on actual prosecutions,” said Zeid.
“Children as young as five years old have been the innocent victims of this appalling epidemic of extra-judicial killings.” Zeid said a credible and independent investigation must be launched into the Davao City killings and the rising death toll under Duterte’s war on drugs.
“The perpetrators must be brought to justice, sending a strong message that violence, killings and human rights violations will not be tolerated by the State and that no one is above the law,” Zeid said.
Zeid also supported UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions Agnes Callamard’s efforts to probe the killings in the Philippines.
He said the Philippine government must lift a series of preconditions on Callamard before the latter can conduct her investigation here. One of the conditions set by Duterte is for him to have a public debate with Callamard.