A woman wearing a protective mask rides her bicycle past an image of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila,…
FILE - A woman wearing a protective mask rides her bicycle past an image of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte in Manila, Philippines, on March 20, 2020.

GENEVA - A new United Nations report accuses the Philippines’ government of waging an illegal campaign against suspected drug users in which thousands are being killed and arbitrarily arrested with impunity.  The report released by the U.N. Human Rights Office Thursday calls for justice for the victims and for perpetrators to be held accountable for their crimes.     

This hard-hitting report sets out in stark terms the devastating toll the government’s war on drugs has taken on the Philippine people.  It says the government’s focus on countering security threats and illegal drugs has resulted in widespread and systematic killings of thousands of alleged drug suspects and human rights defenders over the past five years.   

According to official government figures, more than 8,600 people have been killed.  But the U.N. Human Rights Office estimates the real number to be at least three times higher.  Yet, during this time, it notes only one policeman has been convicted of killing a drug suspect.   

The main author of the report, Ravina Shamdasani, says key policy documents relating to the campaign against illegal drugs lack legal protections.  She says they also contain troubling language, such as “negation” and neutralization” of drug suspects.   

“While these terms are not specifically defined, when you couple the use of such ominous language with the kind of high-level rhetoric calling for the killings of suspected, of drug offenders, we find that this may amount to a permission to kill.  This may be interpreted by police as a permission to kill,”   she said.  

The report finds police routinely make house arrests without warrants.  It says there is evidence of police coverups of killings of unarmed victims.  It says most of the victims of the illegal drug campaign appear to be men from urban communities living in poverty.   

But Shamdasani tells VOA that data about how many people have been killed and who they are is very limited.   

“What their socioeconomic backgrounds were," she said.  "You know, the gender, where they lived and even whether they were users of drugs or involved in the drug trade, for example.  Now, our position is clear.  People who use drugs or sell drugs do not lose their human rights.  In fact, the U.N. advocates for the decriminalization of the possession of drugs.”   

The Human Rights Office says it shared the first draft of the report with the government last week.  It says the government provided a number of substantive comments, many of which have been incorporated in the report.  However, it adds there has been no official response since the report was released.