GENEVA — Reports of thousands of people killed by the police in the Philippine government’s crackdown on drug use are “alternative facts,” a Filipino senator and ally of President Rodrigo Duterte said on Monday, brushing off accusations of extrajudicial killings as a way to discredit Mr. Duterte.
The senator, Alan Peter Cayetano, told a session of the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that statistics collected by human rights observers have mischaracterized all homicides in the Philippines as extrajudicial killings, “which is simply untrue.” Western governments and human rights observers have expressed deep concern over police and vigilante killings of people suspected of being drug users at the behest of Mr. Duterte.
At least 7,000 people, mostly urban poor, have been killed in a brutal campaign to crack down on illegal drug use in the Philippines since Mr. Duterte took office last year, Human Rights Watch said in a statement on Monday to coincide with the council session. It recalled Mr. Duterte’s statement last August in which he said: “My order is to shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.”
Some Filipino activists put the number of people killed in brutal drive-by shootings and police raids much higher. “It’s getting worse. There’s not a single night when there’s no killing,” said Ciriaco Santiago, a Redemptorist missionary who documents deaths in Manila, the capital. He said the city has an average of about 1,000 killings a month.
Mr. Cayetano, the senator, said such tallies were inaccurate and politically motivated. “One: there is no state-sponsored killing in the Philippines; two: there is no sudden wave of killings,” he told the council. “At all times, the Duterte government seeks to uphold the rule of law.”
Talk of an increase in the number of deaths was “a political tactic of changing definitions,” Mr. Cayetano said, asserting that the number of killings was counted differently under the previous government of Benigno S. Aquino III. After Mr. Duterte took office, Mr. Cayetano said that human rights groups and critics changed the way they recorded killings to include anyone who did not die from natural causes or an accident.
He acknowledged after the council session that some people had died in violent ways, but it was “unfair to attribute all of these deaths to the drug war.”
Mr. Cayetano’s statement came little more than a week after a lawyer, acting on behalf of a former police officer and confessed hit man, filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court in The Hague accusing Mr. Duterte and senior officials in the Philippines of mass murder.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, the United Nations’ top human rights official, said in December that the killings Mr. Duterte has said he carried out in the southern city of Davao during his term as mayor “clearly constitute murder,” and Mr. al-Hussein has urged Philippine authorities to investigate.
Mr. Duterte has denied any involvement in death squad killings but said he would not be intimidated by threats of an International Criminal Court investigation or halt the campaign against criminality and drugs, warning “it will be brutal.”
Mr. Cayetano, a close associate of Mr. Duterte’s who was unsuccessful in his bid to become vice president, presented the Philippine government’s first defense of its human rights record before an international body.
He said the police had arrested almost 65,000 “drug personalities,” emphasizing that these people — suspected of being drug users or dealers — were “arrested, your excellencies, not killed.”
There had been a total of 9,432 homicides in the 10 months since Mr. Duterte took office and 2,692 deaths resulting from “presumed legitimate law enforcement operations,” he told the council.
“Make no mistake, any death or killing is one too much,” Mr. Cayetano said. But if there were more deaths in police operations than under the previous administration, it was because the pace of such operations had accelerated, he said.
China’s ambassador to the council, Ma Zhaoxu, praised Mr. Duterte’s “holistic campaign” to tackling his country’s drug problem. Representatives of many other governments have called for a halt to extrajudicial and vigilante killings, and punishment for those responsible.
A week after President Trump invited Mr. Duterte to the White House, prompting concerns about the American president’s apparent embrace of leaders accused of rights abuses, an American diplomat in Geneva called for a full investigation of the allegations.
“We believe it is important that the Philippine government investigate the allegations of more than 7,000 deaths associated with the counternarcotics campaign since July 2016 including over 2,600 killings by security forces and 4,000 by unknown assailants,” Jessica Carl, the diplomat, said.
Human rights groups were more critical. “The government’s denial and deflection of criticism shows it has no intention of complying with its international obligations,” Human Rights Watch said in its statement, urging the United Nations to set up an international inquiry into the killings.