GENEVA: The UN rights chief urged the Philippines on Tuesday (Dec 20) to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for murder, after he boasted that he in the past had personally killed suspected criminals.
Duterte said in a speech last week that when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao, where he served three terms between 1988 and 2016, he personally killed people to set an example for police.
He made the comments in a speech to businessmen as he discussed his campaign to eradicate illegal drugs, which has seen police and unknown assailants kill thousands of people since he became president on Jun 30.
"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," UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement.
"The killings committed by Mr Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder," he said.
"It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer," he insisted.
Duterte has said that as newly-elected mayor of Davao, he and several local policemen ambushed a group of suspected kidnappers shortly after the gang collected ransom from the parents of the released hostage, a local teenage girl.
"Maybe my bullets killed them, maybe not, but after the (firefight) they were all dead," he said. He meanwhile told the BBC on Friday that he had personally killed "about three people" during his term as mayor.
Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre insisted that the president had not violated any law. "If the suspect fought back, he must have been forced to kill him," Aguirre told reporters last week.
But Zeid was adamant, warning that the acts clearly violated the constitution of the Philippines. "The killings described by President Duterte also violate international law, including the right to life ... and innocence until proven guilty," he said.
The UN rights chief's statement also decried the "environment of alarming impunity and violence" created by Duterte's campaign to eradicate illegal drugs. According to the UN, nearly 6,100 people had been killed since Duterte took office in late June.
"Despite police investigating thousands of the deaths perpetrated by vigilantes, there is surprisingly little information on actual prosecutions," Zeid said. "Children as young as five years old have been the innocent victims of this appalling epidemic of extra-judicial killings," he warned.
He also cautioned that repeated assurance that police officers who commit rights violations in the line of duty will receive immunity constituted "a direct violation of all democratic safeguards that have been established to uphold justice and the rule of law".
He called for "credible and independent investigations" to be immediately reopened into the Davao killings. And he demanded similar probes into the "shocking number of killings that have occurred across the country since Mr Duterte became president".
"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," he said.