U.N. Rights Council to Investigate Killings in Philippine Drug War

GENEVA — The United Nations’ top human rights body voted on Thursday to examine thousands of alleged extrajudicial police killings linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, a campaign that rights groups around the world have denounced as a lawless atrocity.

The United Nations’ 47-member Human Rights Council supported a resolution led by Iceland that turned a spotlight on wide-ranging abuses, including killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and persecution of rights activists, journalists, lawyers and members of the political opposition.

Despite fierce opposition from Philippine officials, 18 countries backed the resolution, while 14 opposed it, and 15 others abstained.

The Philippine foreign minister, Teodoro Locsin, in a statement read by his ambassador in Geneva, denounced the resolution as a travesty of human rights that came “straight from the mouth of the queen in Alice in Wonderland.”

“Do not presume to threaten states with accountability for a tough approach to crushing crime” in which some countries were complicit and others tolerant, he said.

In the run-up to Thursday’s vote, Philippine diplomats lobbied fiercely to dissuade council members from supporting what they considered to be a hostile resolution. They fired off memorandums to diplomatic missions in Geneva challenging the initiative as an abuse of Human Rights Council procedures and a bad use of resources.

The Philippines government has acknowledged at least 6,600 deaths in the antidrug campaign since 2016, but human rights groups believe the death toll is much higher.

United Nations human rights experts called last month for an investigation into the “staggering number” of extrajudicial killings, which the Philippines’ human rights commission has estimated could run to more than 27,000.

Amnesty International, in a report last week, described Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs as “nothing but a large-scale murdering enterprise” mainly targeting the poor.

“It is not safe to be poor in President Duterte’s Philippines. All it takes to be murdered is an unproven accusation that someone uses, buys or sells drugs,” said Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s regional director for East and Southeast Asia. “It is time for the United Nations, starting with its Human Rights Council, to act decisively to hold President Duterte and his government accountable.”

The Human Rights Council stopped short of setting up a full-fledged commission of inquiry but called on Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations human rights chief, to compile a comprehensive report on the issue and present it to the council in a year’s time. That would set the stage for tougher follow-up action if the abuses continued unabated, diplomats said.

Even this more benign initiative looks set to infuriate Manila. Mr. Duterte has fired off insults at United Nations human rights experts, and the government sought to have the expert on the rights of indigenous people, Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, declared a terrorist when she criticized the government’s actions.