DAVAO CITY—The head of the UN High Commission for Human Rights on Tuesday reminded President-elect Rodrigo Duterte that he is mandated under international law to protect human rights as he slammed his recent offer of bounties for the killing of suspected criminals and for his plan to reinstate the death penalty.
“I remind the incoming President of the Philippines that international law, which is binding on his administration, requires him to protect the rights of all his people, including journalists, civil society activists and human rights defenders who expose malfeasance,” sand Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, in a wide-ranging speech to the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva.
“Criticism of people in power is not a crime,” he added.
Two UN human rights rapporteurs had earlier condemned Duterte—whose recent statements on the killings of journalists made headlines—for his rather “irresponsible” statements, saying that these instigated deadly violence against members of the press.
UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Cristof Heyns and on freedom of opinion and expression, David Kaye, said that Duterte’s comments were “unbecoming of any leader,” let alone someone who is to assume the position of the leader of a country that calls itself democratic.
Duterte had earlier said the UN cannot compel him to follow agreements he did not sign.
Zeid, however, reminded Duterte that incitement to violence, and extra-judicial assassination—“are crimes and are prohibited under multiple conventions to which the Philippines has acceded.”
“The people of his country have a right to the rule of law. The offer of bounties and other rewards for murder by vigilantes, and his encouragement of extrajudicial killings by security forces, are massive and damaging steps backwards which could lead to widespread violence and chaos,” he said.
Duterte had earlier mocked UN rapporteurs as he told them to “go home and get some sleep,” adding that they misinterpreted his statements.
“My reply to the UN rapporteur: Go home and get some sleep. You are overworked and sound beat. Your statement is anchored on the wrong premise,” Duterte said in a statement released by a spokesman on Wednesday.
Duterte vowed that he will not allow nor condone the killings of any journalists during his six-year tenure, even as he has described them as “prostitutes of the oligarchs.”
The UN High Commissioner also asked Duterte to change his hardline stance of restoring capital punishment in the country—saying that it is not proven to deter criminality.
Doing so, Zeid said, means the Philippines will rescind from a United Nations treaty that aims to abolish capital punishment worldwide.
“I urge the government to reconsider such initiatives, and to refrain from its plans to reintroduce the death penalty, in a country which has been a leading force in the campaign to end the practice,” he said.
Duterte had a falling out with media during a nightly news conference, after the France-based Reporters Without Borders called on the local press to boycott him for saying that it was all right to kill corrupt journalists.
Duterte has been accused of human rights violations because of his alleged ties to the Davao Death Squad, which has been blamed for numerous killings of alleged criminals in the city.
Last year, the New York-based Human Rights Watch urged the Philippine government to investigate the extrajudicial killings in Davao City. The Commission on Human Rights promised to continue its investigations even after Duterte assumes the presidency on June 30.