Philippines president's claim to have killed three people needs scrutiny, says UN rights chief

(Photo: REUTERS / Stringer)Philippine National Police (PNP) carry a body bag, containing a member of the Special Action Force, to a van in Mamasapano town, Maguindanao province, January 26, 2015. At least 30 people were killed in heavy fighting between police and Muslim rebels in the Philippines on Sunday, military and local officials said, threatening a year-old peace agreement and shattering a ceasefire that held for three years.

GENEVA – The U.N. human rights chief is urging the Philippines judicial authorities to launch a murder investigation following the admission by President Rodrigo Duterte that as Mayor of Davao he had killed people, and encouraged others to do the same.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein released a statement Dec. 20 noting Duterte told business leaders at the presidential palace on Dec. 14 that he had patrolled the streets personally on his motorcycle and killed people.

On the same day Philippine Catholic leaders and human rights groups referred to Duterte as "barbaric" and condemned his plan to restore the death penalty and execute "five or six" criminals daily, International Business Times reported.

The newspaper noted that Duterte has revived the death penalty in the Philippines, a mainly Catholic nation, and made it his top legislative priority as part of a drug war that has killed nearly 5,300 people.

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"There was death penalty before but nothing happened. Return that to me and I would do it every day: five or six (criminals). That's for real," the 71-year-old leader had said Dec. 17.

An official at Catholic Bishops' Conference of the Philippines said the church "totally opposed" Duterte's plan.

"The Philippines will be viewed as very barbaric," Father Jerome Secillano, executive secretary at its public affairs office, told AFP. "It's going to make the Philippines the capital of death penalty in the world," he said.

The U.N. rights office in its statement said that in a Dec. 16 interview with the BBC, the Philippines' leader confirmed he had personally killed "about three" people during his term as mayor.

Duterte served as mayor for three terms between 1988-2016. He has previously stated the three people killed in 1988 were suspected of rape and kidnapping.

"Such acts directly contravene the rights enshrined in Article III of the Philippine Constitution," the U.N. High Commissioner said.

"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."

RULE OF LAW

"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," said the U.N. human rights chief said.

"The killings committed by Mr. Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder. It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer."

Zeid said the President's repeated calls for the police, military and the general public to engage in a 'war on drugs', bringing people in 'dead or alive', has fostered an environment of alarming impunity and violence.

Since assuming the presidency on 30 June, reports suggest a total of over 6,100 people have been killed either by police, or by vigilantes and mercenaries, apparently acting in response to the President's war on drugs. In his public comments last week,

Duterte promised "For as long as there are drug lords, this campaign will go on until the last day of my term and until all of them are killed."

"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 that repeated statements indicating that immunity would be provided to police officers who engaged in human rights violations in the line of duty were "a direct violation of all democratic safeguards that have been established to uphold justice and the rule of law."

"Credible and independent investigations must be urgently re-opened into the killings in Davao, as well as into the shocking number of killings that have occurred across the country since Mr. Duterte became president," said Zeid.

"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."

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