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UN Launches Probe on Philippines Drug War Deaths

FILE - Relatives of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte's so-called war on drugs hold a memorial for their loved ones, at a church in Manila, Philippines, March 17, 2019.

The United Nations Human Rights Council has voted to launch an investigation into the alleged killings of tens of thousands of Filipinos during the government's war on drugs.

The measure, put forward by Iceland, was approved 18-14 Thursday. It cites extrajudicial killings, arbitrary arrests and disappearances at the hands of police since President Rodrigo Duterte launched the anti-narcotics campaign in 2016.

Philippines ambassador in Geneva, Evan Garcia, immediately rebuked the U.N. move saying it "does not represent a triumph of human rights, but a travesty of them.''

Filipino activists have claimed that about 27,000 people have been killed as police terrorize poor communities, using cursory drug "watch lists" to identify users or dealers. The government counters that about 6,600 people have been killed by police in shootouts with drug dealers.

The resolution was welcomed by human rights groups. "This vote provides hope for thousands of bereaved families in the Philippines," Amnesty International said in a statement. "It's a crucial step towards justice and accountability."