MANILA (Updated) -- The UN human rights chief asked Philippine authorities Tuesday to investigate President Rodrigo Duterte for murder after he claimed to have killed people in the past and also to examine the "appalling epidemic of extra-judicial killings" committed during his anti-drug crackdown.
Philippine judicial authorities "must demonstrate their commitment to upholding the rule of law and their independence from the executive by launching a murder investigation," UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said, adding it's "unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer."
Since taking office in June, Duterte has obsessively overseen the crackdown on illegal drugs that has left more than 6,000 people dead. Philippine government officials have defended police actions during the crackdown, and the president has met past such calls with angry tirades.
Zeid's call, made in a statement issued in Geneva, was sparked by Duterte's remarks in recent speeches that as a town mayor in southern Davao city in 1988, he killed three suspected kidnappers in a firefight where he was backed up by three police officers. He later clarified he was unsure whether the bullets from his M16 rifle killed the suspects.
The brash-talking president has also suggested that he used to roam around his sprawling city as mayor on a big motorcycle to look for criminals to kill so policemen would emulate him.
"In Davao, I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys that, if I can do it, why can't you?" Duterte said last week. "I go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also. I was really looking for an encounter to be able to kill."
Duterte's acts "directly contravene the rights" enshrined in the Philippine constitution and the killings recalled by the president "also violate international law," Zeid said. The UN official also said Duterte's encouragement of others may constitute incitement to violence and expressed concern about Duterte's assurances that police officers who commit human rights violations would be immune from prosecution.
"The perpetrators must be brought to justice, sending a strong message that violence, killings and human rights violations will not be tolerated by the state and that no one is above the law," he said.
Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, however, has defended Duterte, saying the president often exaggerates killings of criminals to send a chilling warning to lawbreakers.
Aguirre said Duterte may have been resorting to hyperbole in his description of roaming around Davao on his motorcycle.
Duterte previously threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations for its criticism of his drug crackdown, describing the world body as inutile in the face of genocidal killings in other places. (AP)