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UN slams Philippine police for killing nine activists

March 9, 2021

Rights groups report that police killed activists in a raid meant to target militants. UN officials have blamed Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte for encouraging police violence.

President Rodrigo Duterte confers with police Chief Ronald Dela Rosa
Philipine President Rodrigo Duterte has emboldened police and encouraged violence Image: Reuters/E. Acayan

On Tuesday, the United Nations slammed Philippine security forces after the deaths of nine activists and urged an end to inflammatory rhetoric from President Rodrigo Duterte. 

"We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation of violence, intimidation and harassment," UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said. 

The government claims that the killings were lawful and took place during multiple raids on suspected insurgents on Sunday. Officials promised a full investigation. 

What happened during the raid?

Eight men and one woman were killed as the authorities executed search warrants before dawn on Sunday, the UN rights office reports.

The people killed include activists for labor, housing and indigenous rights, as well as activists who represent fishers, according to the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights.

The raids took place in simultaneous police and military operations near Manila, according to officials in the Philippines. Officials called the raids part of a counterinsurgency campaign against the New People's Army (NPA), which is the armed wing of the country's Communist Party.

Duterte's government vowed to crush the decades-old Maoist insurgency before the end of his six-year term in 2022. 

The president has often lambasted the Communist Party in his speeches.

Women cry over the body of Jonathan Sevilla, a victim of the drug war in the Philippines
Thousands have died in Duterte's drug war, including activists, journalists and lawyersImage: picture-alliance/NurPhoto/E. Acayan

From words to violence

The raids occurred two days after Duterte told security forces to "ignore human rights" and encouraged them to use deadly force. 

"I told the military to shoot and kill right away if they see you holding a gun. Just return the body to the family." Duterte said. 

Rights groups accuse Duterte of using inflammatory language and violent tactics against Communist insurgents as a guise to silence dissent and clamp down on activists.

Hundreds of activists killed in war on drugs

The raid and killings evoked comparisons to Duterte's bloody drug war. During the clampdown, police said all of the victims were armed and had resisted. 

In 2018, Duterte emboldened the police by stating: "Do your duty, and if in the process you kill 1,000 persons because you are doing your duty, I will protect you."

RSF: 'Duterte identified journalists as enemies'

Since Duterte took power in 2016, hundreds of activists, journalists and lawyers have been killed, rights groups say. Nearly 6,000 deaths have been attributed to the drug war.

A June 2020 report from the UN human rights chief Michele Bachelet found a serious lack of due process in police operations, and near total impunity for the use of lethal force by police and the military. 

jm/dj (AFP, Reuters) 

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