The police do not count among the dead the hundreds of victims killed nightly, in attacks the government attributes to vigilante groups. Those victims are often found with cardboard signs around their necks indicating that they were drug users or dealers.
The government has strenuously rejected the death toll as estimated by Human Rights Watch, and has demanded the organization issue an apology.
“To make such sweeping accusations without being able to support these claims with facts is not just misrepresentation,” Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano said last week. “It is outright deception.”
A representative of Human Rights Watch defended the organization’s estimate.
“By any measure, even the P.N.P.’s estimate of drug war deaths is an alarming number of killings that warrant an independent investigation,” said Phelim Kine, the group’s deputy director for Asia, referring to the Philippine National Police.
Mr. Kine added that the “glaring disparity” between the official death toll and those of independent observers underscored the need for the government to allow a United Nations-led investigation
Mr. Duterte has condemned the United Nations, the United States and the European Union for their criticism of his antidrug campaign.
In a conference call with reporters on Tuesday, James Walsh, a State Department official overseeing American policy on international narcotics and law enforcement, said he was guardedly optimistic that Mr. Duterte’s government would reduce the number of extrajudicial killings.
“There is some encouragement that we are seeing some of our human rights training working,” Mr. Walsh said. “And so I would describe the United States as being cautiously optimistic in the trends when it comes to the appropriate way for a drug campaign.”