UNITED NATIONS: Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Tuesday that anyone found to have "acted beyond bounds" in his campaign against illegal drugs would be held accountable under national laws, while appearing to reject an International Criminal Court probe.
Duterte told the United Nations General Assembly he had instructed the justice ministry and police to review the conduct of the campaign, in which more than 6,100 suspected drug dealers have been killed since 2016. Activists say many thousands more, mostly users or small-time peddlers, were killed by mystery gunmen.
"Those found to have acted beyond bounds during operations shall be made accountable before our laws," Duterte said in a video address to the annual gathering that drew criticism from rights groups.
Human Rights Watch accused Duterte of trying to mislead the international community into believing his government was investigating unlawful killings, noting that out of thousands of drug war killings only one case had resulted in a court conviction
In a statement, Carlos Conde, Senior Philippines Researcher at Human Rights Watch, said what the public had got instead was "more propaganda and stonewalling by the authorities."
Duterte made no mention of a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity, which was approved by judges from the International Criminal Court last week, although he appeared to reject outside interference in human rights issues.
"We have recently finalized with the United Nations our Joint Program on Human Rights. This is a model for constructive engagement between a sovereign Member State and the United Nations," he said.
"Meaningful change, to be enduring, must come from within. The imposition of one's will over another - no matter how noble the intent - has never worked in the past. And it never will in the future."
Duterte's government said last week it will not cooperate with the ICC or allow any investigators into the Philippines. Duterte and his police chiefs have said the killings were in self-defense and his government has insisted the ICC has no right to meddle in the country's affairs.
Rights groups say Duterte personally incited deadly violence in the drug war and accuse police of murdering unarmed suspects on a massive scale. Rights group say the police summarily executed suspects, which the policy deny.
In February, the Philippine police said they were looking into a government review of the killings after the justice minister made an unprecedented admission to the United Nations of widespread police failures.
In his speech, Duterte also said the Philippines would welcome an unspecified number of Rohingya Muslim refugees who had fled violence in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The justice ministry had been ordered to work with the UN High Commissioner on Refugees to make preparations, he said.
"The Philippines has limited resources during these extraordinary times. But what we can do for humanity and to uplift human dignity, we will," Duterte said.