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Philippine 'war on drugs' comes under fire at UN Human Rights Council

The Philippines is facing mounting pressure over its "war on drugs" that has killed thousands of people. In a review at the UN, the country's envoy said figures on extrajudicial killings had been 'distorted.'

Facing the UN's rights body in Geneva on Monday, Senator Alan Peter Cayetano of the Philippines attempted to use a slideshow and video clips to prove that President Rodrigo Duterte is acting within his rights in a "war on drugs" that haskilled thousands of people. Cayetano said nearly 1.3 million people who have used or dealt illegal drugs had surrendered voluntarily, and that only a small fraction put up violent resistance.

"One: There is no state-sponsored killing in the Philippines," Cayetano said, seeking to put the issue to bed from the start. "Two: There is no sudden wave of killings."

Cayetano claimed that officers had killed 2,692 people in the 11 months since Duterte took office. He pointed out that national law legitimates deaths during police operations.

Other estimates suggest the figure is much higher, however. The US group Human Rights Watch, for example, has tabulated 7,000 deaths during Duterte's crackdown. 

Watch video 05:41

Duterte's 'war on drugs' in the Philippines

Is Duterte 'excellent'?

Following Cayetano's remarks, delegations had a minute each to critique Duterte's rights record. A delegate from China cited Cayetano's "very convincing" remarks and the challenges faced by China and other "developing countries" in fighting the drugs trade.

Other delegates criticized the frequent extrajudicial killings, violence against journalists and the prospect that Duterte could formally reinstate executions. The German envoy, for example, said the Philippines must take "all necessary measures" to stop extrajudicial killings, and the Vatican called reports of enforced disappearances "deeply troubling."

The 47-member council, which the Philippines holds a seat on, regularly reviews the rights records of the 193 UN countries. The current two-week review session focuses on 14 countries, including Britain, India and South Africa. Several members - such as Britain, China, Cuba, Egypt, Germany, Saudi Arabia and the US - have previously earned criticism for their own rights records.

A poll of 1,200 Filipinos released Monday found that Duterte maintains an "excellent" trust rating, with 80 percent giving him the highest score in a survey that focuses on personality rather than policy. The pollster Social Weather Stations has tracked Duterte's trust rating since he began his run for the presidency in December 2015.

As a candidate, Duterte started off with a 47 percent rating; he peaked with 84 percent a week before he took office late last June, and has lost a point since the last survey. Pollsters did not ask respondents to give a reason for their ratings.

Last week, US President Donald Trump set off an uproar in Washington by inviting Duterte to the White House despite rights groups' criticism of his policies and the deaths that have ensued.

mkg/rt (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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