Identifying illegal drugs as one of the Philippines' top social problems, President Rodrigo Duterte's successful 2016 election campaign promised to crush criminality and corruption and publicly advocated the killing of suspected drug dealers and users.
Since President Duterte took office on 30 June, almost 8,000 people have been extrajudicially killed. In addition to police violence, unidentified gunmen continue to carry out executions of alleged drug offenders, as President Duterte has publicly encouraged vigilante groups to join his campaign. Since June 2016 more than 2,555 people have been killed in police operations while the rest have died in vigilante-style killings.
President Duterte has admitted that innocent civilians, including children, may have been killed during his "war on drugs," referring to them as "collateral damage." Despite President Duterte encouraging vigilantism, on 4 March 2017 his spokesperson stated "vigilante or extrajudicial killings are unlawful and therefore not sanctioned." Fearing execution, over one million alleged drug offenders have surrendered to police. President Duterte has also extended his death threats to human rights defenders and lawyers representing those arrested for drug offenses.
Unlawful violence against civilians shows no sign of abating. During October, a Philippines Senate Committee announced that investigations into extrajudicial killings would be abandoned. On 14 December the government cancelled a trip by the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, due to her refusal to accept restrictions imposed upon her visit.
Following the death of a South Korean businessman in police custody, on 30 January President Duterte announced a "pause" in police operations. President Duterte ordered the Philippines National Police (PNP) to investigate 120,000 officers, stating that the "war on drugs" was not working because of "corrupt scalawags." On 6 March the PNP Chief announced their re-engagement with anti-drug operations.
On 24 February Senator Leila de Lima, a longtime critic of President Duterte's harsh 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 spoken out against the arrest as an attempt by President Duterte to silence parliamentary opposition to his campaign of extrajudicial killings.
While the government of the Philippines has sovereign authority to maintain law and order within their borders, including by punishing those who deal in illegal drugs, they are obligated to do so with respect to international human rights law.
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 reinforced an atmosphere of impunity. Governmental bodies are dominated by President Duterte's allies, allowing human rights violations to continue without the prospect of accountability under the justice system.
The government of the Philippines is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Filipinos, including those accused of drug offenses.
The international community has expressed grave concern about state violence in the Philippines. On 3 November the spokesperson for the PNP responded to criticisms 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.
President Duterte has compared the war on drugs with the Holocaust and declared his willingness to "slaughter" the Philippines' 3 million suspected drug abusers. In response, on 30 September the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Adama Dieng, called upon the President to "exercise restraint in the use of language that could encourage the commission of crimes which, if widespread and systematic, may amount to crimes against humanity."
On 13 October the Chief Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, declared that her office will consider a preliminary examination into the violence.
On 20 December the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, urged judicial authorities to launch an investigation into extrajudicial killings after President Duterte admitted to personally killing "about three" people while mayor of Davao during 1988-2016. On 8 March High Commissioner Zeid called for independent and credible investigations into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
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 on the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and allow her to visit the Philippines.
The UN and ICC should continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines. States with strong economic and political ties to the Philippines, such as the United States, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending systematic extrajudicial killings.
Last Updated: 14 April 2017