Populations at Risk Serious Concern

Philippines

The government's "war on drugs" leaves civilians in the Philippines at risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity. Ongoing fighting between extremist armed groups and the government for control of the city of Marawi also puts civilians at risk of atrocities on the southern island of Mindanao.
BACKGROUND:
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office on 30 June 2016, almost 9,000 people have been extrajudicially killed in his proclaimed "war on drugs." More than 2,555 people have been killed in police operations while the remainder of the killings has been attributed to unidentified gunmen who carry out vigilante-style executions of alleged drug offenders. President Duterte has publicly encouraged vigilantes to join his campaign and has extended his death threats to human rights defenders and lawyers representing those arrested for drug offenses. Fearing execution, over one million alleged drug offenders have surrendered to police. President Duterte has compared the war on drugs with the Holocaust and declared his willingness to "slaughter" the Philippines' 3 million suspected drug abusers.

During October a Philippines Senate Committee abandoned investigations into extrajudicial killings. On 1 February the Philippines Justice Secretary stated the killings could not be deemed crimes against humanity as drug offenders were not "part of humanity." On 24 April Jude Sabio, a Filipino lawyer, filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing President Duterte and 11 other senior officials of crimes against humanity and mass murder. A Philippine Senator and Representative both filed a supplemental communication on 6 June, urging the ICC to conduct a preliminary examination.

On 24 February Senator Leila de Lima, a longtime critic of President Duterte's policies and former Chair of the Philippines Senate Justice and Human Rights Committee, was arrested on charges of abetting the illegal drug trade while serving as Justice Secretary from 2010-2015. International observers have deemed the arrest an attempt by President Duterte to silence parliamentary opposition to his campaign of extrajudicial killings.

During December the government cancelled a trip by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary killings due to her refusal to accept restrictions imposed upon her visit. Despite being barred from an official visit, she participated in an academic conference in the Philippines from 3-5 May.

On 23 May, after a failed attempt to capture the so-called "emir" of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Southeast Asia¬, the Maute, an ISIL-aligned armed group, overtook portions of Marawi city in Mindanao. Religiously-motivated violence has been reported, including the kidnapping of a priest and the execution of at least eight people believed to be Christians. According to the UN Office on the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 212,000 people fled the city and another 35,000 people were trapped in Maute-controlled areas. President Duterte responded by declaring martial law in Mindanao. He has also announced that he would consider expanding martial law to the rest of the Philippines and has made comments that appeared to endorse rape by soldiers deployed to retake Marawi.

After several weeks of fighting, the Philippines' armed forces have retaken the majority of Marawi with the help of United States Special Forces. However, an estimated 1,500 people remain trapped or held hostage.

ANALYSIS:
While the government of the Philippines has sovereign authority to maintain law and order within its borders, including by punishing those who deal in illegal drugs and commit acts of terrorism, it is obligated to do so with respect to international human rights law (IHRL). Under the current government, Filipinos are at growing risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity. By openly calling upon armed vigilantes to join the "war on drugs," President Duterte has actively promoted an atmosphere of impunity.

In Mindanao Christian Filipinos are at a heightened risk of being targeted by armed religious extremists of Maute.

The government of the Philippines is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Filipinos, including those accused of drug offenses.

INTERNATIONAL RESPONSE:
International observers have expressed grave concern about state violence in the Philippines. On 3 November the spokesperson for the police responded to criticism by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and other NGOs by inviting international human rights organizations to visit the Philippines and investigate. The government has not, however, responded to a formal request to visit.

On 13 October the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, declared that her office would consider a preliminary examination into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

On 8 March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called for an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

On 10 June the United States deployed Special Forces to join the military campaign to retake Marawi.

NECESSARY ACTION:
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings. The government should investigate all vigilante killings and hold perpetrators accountable.

The government should immediately remove unreasonable conditions imposed upon the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and allow her to visit the Philippines in her official capacity.

Government forces should ensure that military operations to retake Marawi are consistent with international human rights law and make every possible effort to protect civilians. The government should end martial law as soon as possible upon assuming control of Marawi. The government should hold all perpetrators of attacks on civilians, including rape, accountable.

The UN Human Rights Council should continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines. States with strong economic and political ties to the Philippines, especially the United States, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending extrajudicial killings.

Last Updated: 15 June 2017