The United Nations human rights office has condemned the killing of nine activists by Philippine police over the weekend and urged the government of President Rodrigo Duterte to investigate the incident, as his national security adviser confirmed a “shoot-on-sight” order against the activists, who are alleged to be communist rebels.
“We are appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing of nine activists,” Ravina Shamdasani, a spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said during a news briefing in Geneva on Tuesday.
“We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation of violence, intimidation harassment and ‘red tagging’ of human rights defenders.”
“Red-tagging” refers to government and military efforts to label anyone critical of human rights abuses or fighting for labour rights as a communist. Shamdasani said an investigation into the deaths would be “a critical test for the domestic investigative mechanisms it has established for cases of this kind.”
A total of nine activists were killed on Sunday after the government forces launched a “counterinsurgency” operation, which human rights activists described as “Bloody Sunday”. At least six other activists were also arrested.
Police said they have also recovered firearms and ammunition from the locations of the operation but rights groups and family members of the people killed said the evidence was falsified.
Vice President Leni Robredo, who was elected separately from Duterte and is from the opposition, condemned the incident and called it a “massacre”.
“The Filipino people deserve better than this murderous regime,” Robredo said in a statement.
‘Shoot on sight’
Tens of thousands of people have died in the conflict with Communist rebels that started more than 50 years ago. Successive Philippine governments have struggled to end the fighting.
The activists were killed just two days after Duterte ordered government forces to “kill” and “finish off” all communist rebels in the country. He also urged government forces to ignore human rights, saying he was “willing to go to jail” to defend his directive.
Rights groups say the threats against Maoist rebels no longer appear to make any distinction between armed rebels and mainstream rights defenders, left-wing groups and other critics of the Duterte administration.
On Tuesday, Duterte’s National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr defended the president’s order and said the operation that killed the nine activists was legitimate.
“In the name of law and order, a shoot-to-kill order has been issued against armed CPP-NPA members,” Esperon said in a news briefing, referring to the armed rebel groups.
“It is really shoot on sight. That’s really the order of the president,” said Esperon, who is a former military general.