QUEZON CITY , Philippines, Dec. 23 (UPI) -- Statements by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte that he personally killed suspects while mayor of Davao City will be investigated, a human right agency announced.
Duterte, since his June inauguration, has led a brutal crackdown on drug users and dealers, and critics say more 6,000 people have died at the hands of police and vigilante groups.
In an interview last week, Duterte said he shot three men to death while he was Davao City's mayor, prior to his presidency. The comment prompted the Philippine Commission on Human Rights to announce an investigation of his claims. The commission, an independent office mandated in the Philippines' Constitution, said it will also examine reports that several hundred people were killed while Duterte was mayor by vigilante groups known as the Davao Death Squads.
The CHR's action comes after United Nations High Commissioner for Human rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein called for an investigation of Duterte's comments in the radio interview. In a statement Tuesday, Hussein said Philippine judicial authorities should begin an investigation to demonstrate a commitment to upholding the rule of law, as well as independence from the chief executive.
"The killings committed by Mr. Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder. It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer."
CHR chief Chito Gascon noted Duterte, as president, is immune from prosecution while in office, but said "Now, with his admission... we are looking into new evidence that directly links Mr. Duterte to the killings. Even if we cannot file charges while Mr. Duterte is president, I think it is important that we do have a record and documentation [of events] so that at the time of appropriate reckoning we have the evidence preserved, so that people may ultimately be held to account for what they have done."