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UN Expert Keen on Probing Human Rights in Philippines | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte waits for the Southeast Asian leaders to arrive during the opening ceremony of the ASEAN summit in Manila, Philippines April 29, 2017. (Reuters)

A United Nations expert said she is keen on addressing the human rights record in the Philippines, the first time since President Rodrigo Duterte’s election.

A Filipino senator defended on Monday’s Duterte’s human rights record, saying his government always “seeks to uphold the rule of law” in the face of claims that it supports deadly vigilante justice.

Senator Alan Peter Cayetano came before the UN’s Human Rights Council equipped with a slide show and video excerpts of previous comments by Duterte about the Philippines’ fight against illegal drug trafficking.

Cayetano was speaking Monday at a review of Philippines human rights record at the council, part of a process known as the Universal Periodic Review of all 193 UN member states.

Human Rights Watch has urged the UN to denounce the Philippines’ “war on drugs” that it said has left over 7,000 suspected drug dealers and users dead since Duterte took office in June.

Meanwhile, a UN expert who irked the Philippines with a surprise visit said on Saturday she was keen to return and investigate alleged summary killings, but only if Duterte drops his condition that she must hold a debate with him.

Agnes Callamard, UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has been vocal about allegations of systematic executions in the Philippines as part of Duterte’s war on drugs.

A planned visit by Callamard in December was canceled because she refused to accept Duterte’s conditions. She turned up in an unofficial capacity on Friday, telling an academic conference on human rights issues that she would not carry out any research this time.

Duterte has sought a public debate with Callamard before allowing her to conduct an inquiry into allegations of human rights violations against him, and that she be placed under oath before answering questions from the government.

The maverick leader has previously stated his openness toward being probed by the UN and western governments, but only if he gets to publicly ask investigators questions, during which he said he would “humiliate” them and create a “spectacle”.

The government insists it must be given the opportunity to question UN rapporteurs because the Philippines had already been maligned by allegations of systematic state-sponsored killings of drug dealers and users.

Meanwhile, on Monday Duterte kept his “excellent” trust rating for a fourth consecutive quarter in an opinion poll, with four-fifths of Filipino’s giving him the highest score in a survey that focuses on personality rather than policy.

Pollster Social Weather Stations has been tracking trust ratings of Duterte since December 2015, when he signed up for a presidential election that he won six months later. Duterte started off with a 47 percent trust rating and his peak was 84 percent a week before he took office late in June.

Eighty percent of the 1,200 Filipinos surveyed in the first quarter this year by SWS said they have “much trust” in the firebrand leader, a one percentage point drop from December.

Eleven percent said they were undecided and 10 percent have “little trust” in the former mayor from the southern Philippines.

The survey was conducted from March 25 to 28 and was released at the weekend. It did not ask respondents to give a reason for their ratings.