Populations at Risk
The government's "war on drugs" leaves civilians in the Philippines at risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office during June 2016, over 9,000 people have been extrajudicially killed during his proclaimed "war on drugs," although the number is likely significantly higher. More than 3,900 people have been killed in police operations while thousands of deaths have 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.
Between 14-18 August over 90 people were killed during the deadliest week since President Duterte took office. Among those killed was Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old student. Delos Santos' death sparked outcry when CCTV footage and witness testimony implicated police officers in carrying out a summary execution. On 21 August President Duterte ordered the Philippines National Police (PNP) to launch an investigation. The Philippines Commission on Human Rights and the Senate have also begun investigating delos Santos' death.
On 11 October President Duterte announced that the PNP and military will refrain from undertaking any further drug operations and named the Philippines Drug Enforcement Agency as the sole agency to conduct anti-drug campaigns.
President Duterte has compared his "war on drugs" with the Holocaust and declared his willingness to "slaughter" millions of suspected drug abusers. Other high-ranking government officials have echoed these sentiments, including the Justice Secretary, who stated that the killings could not be deemed crimes against humanity as drug offenders were not "part of humanity." President Duterte has silenced those opposed to the killings, including through imprisoning a parliamentary opponent and threatening to abolish the constitutionally-mandated Commission on Human Rights.
On 24 April Jude Sabio, a Philippine 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. Two Philippine legislators filed a supplemental communication on 6 June urging the ICC to conduct a preliminary examination. On 11 October Philippine lawyers filed a Supreme Court injunction in an attempt to halt the "drug war."
On 23 May Maute, an armed group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, overtook portions of Marawi city causing President Duterte to declare martial law on the southern island of Mindanao. Fighting between the army and Maute displaced over 360,000 people. On 23 October the Philippines military formally declared that the city had been retaken from Maute.
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. Filipinos are at growing risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity. By openly calling upon armed vigilantes to join his "war on drugs," President Duterte has actively promoted an atmosphere of impunity for murder.
The government of the Philippines is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Filipinos from crimes against humanity, including those accused of drug offenses.
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. During May 2017 the UN Human Rights Council conducted its Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines, issuing 257 recommendations including halting and investigating extrajudicial killings. On 23 September the Philippines government rejected 154 of the recommendations.
During November 2016 the United States halted the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP and reallocated $4.5 million in aid to maritime security and human rights training, citing concerns over human rights violations. Other states have continued to donate arms to the PNP including China, which recently transferred over $3 million worth of rifles and ammunition, and Russia, which donated assault rifles.
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings. The Philippines Senate should ensure that a substantial and credible investigation into extrajudicial killings and the "war on drugs" is undertaken.
President Duterte should end martial law in Marawi.
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 and China, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending extrajudicial killings.
Last Updated: 15 November 2017