MANILA -- The confrontation between Rodrigo Duterte and the United Nations over his war on drugs continues to escalate, with the U.N. human rights chief calling for a criminal investigation into the Philippine president's claim to have personally killed suspects.
"The killings committed by Mr. Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder," Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, the high commissioner for human rights, said Tuesday. "It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer."
The former mayor of the southern Philippine city of Davao has spoken on a number of occasions -- including during his run for the presidency -- of killing criminal suspects himself in the past. Just last week, Duterte told an audience of business leaders at the presidential palace that while mayor, he would cruise around the streets of Davao on motorcycle "looking for trouble." Duterte also said he had killed suspects just to show police "that if I can do it, why can't you?"
Then on Friday, the president told reporters in Singapore that he had killed "about three" criminals. "I cannot lie about it," he said.
Duterte also said his orders to the police as the president are that suspects should be arrested when possible, but that if they resist or police feel threatened, officers have permission to kill.
U.N. probe delayed
The Duterte administration and the U.N. are also at odds over preconditions for a probe of apparent extrajudicial killings of drug-dealing suspects in the Philippines under the president's watch. Agnes Callamard, the U.N. special rapporteur on summary executions, said in August that she intended to visit the Philippines to investigate. Duterte initially refused, even threatening to pull his country out of the U.N. In October, the administration agreed to the visit, but Duterte set conditions, including a public debate between himself and Callamard.
Callamard rejected those terms Dec. 15, proposing instead a joint news conference with the president. But Duterte reiterated his demands Saturday, and the probe appears no closer to beginning.
Philippine authorities say 6,173 suspects were killed in connection with drug offenses from July 1 to Dec. 15. Of this number, police killed 2,124 in the line of duty -- actions that authorities said often were forced by suspects resisting arrest. The other 4,049 killings were perpetrated outside the scope of police investigations, according to authorities.
All of this bloodshed has unsettled the public, with 78% of Filipinos surveyed by local researcher Social Weather Stations this month saying they felt very or somewhat worried about themselves or anyone they know becoming victims of extrajudicial killings. Some of those killed simply appear to have been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Yet the same poll found deep support for Duterte's fight against illegal drugs, with 85% saying they were very or somewhat satisfied with the president's stance on the issue. That figure was little changed from September.
Duterte has vowed to continue his anti-drug campaign for as long as he remains in office. Though that may prove popular with voters, it also could further isolate him from the international community.