June 4 (UPI) -- A United Nations report Thursday said the Philippines government has engaged in widespread human rights violations in the name of national security and drug trafficking.
The U.N. Human Rights Office called on the government to immediately address its tactics and the way it deals with suspects under President Rodrigo Duterte.
"While there have been important human rights gains in recent years, particularly in economic and social rights, the underpinning focus on national security threats -- real and inflated -- has led to serious human rights violations, reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high-level officials," the 26-page report states.
The study adds that there have been 8,663 deaths since the government in Manila began its campaign against drugs under Duterte four years ago. The OHCHR said 248 human rights activists, legal professionals, journalists and trade unionists have been among the dead since 2015.
Human rights organizations say the true toll is much higher and is probably close to 27,000.
The OHCHR said laws lack due process protections and there's encouragement at the highest level for the government to kill drug suspects. Those lack of checks has led to widespread misconduct by police, the report says.
"The Philippines faces major challenges -- structural poverty, inequality, armed conflict, frequent natural disasters, and now the COVID-19 crisis," said High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet.
"It is vital the government's responses be grounded in human-rights approaches and guided by meaningful dialogue," she said. "Unfortunately, the report has documented deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations, and victims have been deprived of justice for the killings of their loved ones. Their testimonies are heartbreaking."