GENEVA -- The United Nations said Tuesday it was "appalled" by the apparent arbitrary killing of nine activists in the Philippines by security forces targeting alleged communist insurgents.
Eight men and one woman were killed as the authorities executed search warrants before dawn on Sunday, the UN rights office said. Filipino activists called the roundup "Bloody Sunday."
"We are appalled by the apparently arbitrary killing of nine activists," Ravina Shamdasani, a spokeswoman for the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, told reporters in Geneva.
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The killings happened in simultaneous police and military operations in the Batangas, Cavite, Laguna and Rizal provinces surrounding Manila.
The spokeswoman said that among those killed were labor rights, fishing community, housing and indigenous rights activists, while six people were reportedly arrested.
The Philippines government told the UN rights office that the operation was part of its counter-insurgency campaign against the New People's Army (NPA), the armed wing of the Communist party.
"We are deeply worried that these latest killings indicate an escalation in violence, intimidation, harassment and 'red-tagging' of human rights defenders," said Shamdasani.
"Red-tagging" means being accused of being a front for the NPA.
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UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet's June 2020 report on the Philippines said there was a serious lack of due process in police operations, and near-total impunity for the use of lethal force by the police and the military.
Sunday's deaths came two days after President Rodrigo Duterte -- whose controversial drug war has cost thousands of lives -- repeated an order for security forces to "ignore human rights" and kill Communist rebels.
Hundreds of activists, journalists and lawyers have been killed since Duterte took power in 2016, rights groups say.
Many died after being accused of supporting the decades-old Maoist insurgency that the populist president has vowed to crush before the end of his six-year term in 2022.