MANILA - The foreign minister of Iceland on Monday (Geneva time) urged the United Nations Human Rights Council to take further initiatives into investigations of human rights violations in the Philippines in connection with the country’s war on drugs.
In a speech during the opening of the 37th session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva, Switzerland, Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson welcomed the International Criminal Court’s earlier announcement that it would conduct a preliminary examination into killings linked to the drug war but challenged the Council to do more.
“This is an important development but it does not take the responsibility away from this body to fulfill its duty to monitor, investigate and to deliberate and take further steps including a more formal Council initiative, if the need arises, to try and assure the Philippines meets its human rights obligations,” he said.
The Philippines, Thórdarson said, is a member of the HRC, along with Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and Egypt whose governments were also accused of human rights violations.
The Philippines was elected a member of the HRC on October 28, 2015. Its term will expire this year.
“States which join the Council should lead by example and expect their own human rights record to be subject to particular scrutiny during their time as members," said Thórdarson.
"If the HRC does not hold its own members to account to ensure that they uphold the highest standards in the promotion of protection of human rights then who will?” he added.
Last year, Iceland, along with 38 countries, called attention to the killings in the Philippines and criticized it for the “climate of impunity” associated with the war on drugs.
Government has denied involvement in summary killings and maintained that drug suspects slain in anti-narcotics operations had put up violent resistance.
In late January, the Philippine National Police said nearly 4,000 drug suspects were killed in anti-drug operations between July 1, 2016, the start of the Duterte administration, and January 17, 2018.
Thórdarson welcomed reports that the Philippine government “may be willing to cooperate with the UN to allow an objective assessment of the human rights situations in the country.”
“We would like to take this opportunity to urge the Philippines to continue on our path and to accept without preconditions or limitations a visit from the UN special rapporteur and to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner to receive a mission by independent experts to conduct such an assessment without delay,” he said.
Presidential Spokersperson Harry Roque, meanwhile, said Tuesday that "no one that can compel a state party to allow an investigation if it does not want."
He said he would recommend a special rapporteur to President Rodrigo Duterte as Agnes Callamard, the UN’s special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, was unfit to conduct an "objective and unbiased" inquiry given her earlier statements against the government's anti-drug campaign.
The Human Rights Council is an inter-governmental body within the UN system composed of 47 states responsible for the promotion and protection of human rights around the world. Based in Geneva, its members are elected by the UN General Assembly and serve for a three-year term.