Philippines halts aid talks with backers of UN rights probe into drug war

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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has ordered the suspension of all loan and grant talks with foreign governments that backed a United Nations resolution to review human rights abuses during his signature anti-drug war.

The Iceland-sponsored UN Human Rights Council resolution passed by a minority vote in July, drawing a sharp riposte from Duterte, who bristles at Western condemnation of his campaign which has killed thousands and drawn international condemnation but is widely supported by Filipinos.

Last month, Duterte’s chief aide issued a memorandum which he signed “by order of the president” to cut off all official development aid talks with the countries that voted for the resolution, according to the document.

The memorandum was issued to the heads of all government agencies by Executive Secretary Salvador Medialdea on August 27 and was posted on the official website of the Bureau of Customs but was taken down Saturday.

“All concerned officials are DIRECTED to suspend negotiations for and signing of all loan and grant agreements with the governments of the countries that co-sponsored and/or voted in favour of the aforesaid resolution,” it said.

The directive said the August 27 memorandum was issued “in light of the administrations’ strong rejection of the resolution of the United Nations Human Rights Council.”

However, asked late Friday whether Duterte’s office had issued the document, Duterte’s spokesman Salvador Panelo said it was “not true”, adding he had spoken to the president about it.

Panelo also later issued a brief statement saying: “The President has not issued any memorandum suspending loans and negotiations involving 18 countries that voted in favour of the Iceland resolution.”

The 18 members that backed the resolution are Argentina, Australia, Austria, Bahamas, Britain, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, Iceland, Italy, Mexico, Peru, Slovakia, Spain, Ukraine, and Uruguay.

The amount of aid that would be held up by the order was not known.

Some signatories are members of the European Union, one of the Philippines’ largest sources of official development assistance. The EU ambassador to Manila declined to comment.

Australia is also a key source of security assistance.

Panelo had told reporters shortly after the July vote that Duterte was seriously considering breaking diplomatic ties with Iceland, which had introduced the resolution.

Duterte launched the anti-drug crackdown in 2016, and since then police say they have killed over 5,500 drug suspects. However, human rights groups say the true toll is four times that number.

The UN review comes in addition to a preliminary examination already launched by war crimes prosecutors from the International Criminal Court, which the Philippines left earlier this year.

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