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. Ongoing fighting between extremist armed groups and the government for control of the city of Marawi also puts civilians at risk of atrocities.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office during June 2016, an estimated 9,000 people have been extrajudicially killed during his proclaimed "war on drugs." More than 2,555 people have been killed in police operations while the remaining 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 and has extended his death threats to human rights defenders and lawyers representing those arrested for drug offenses. President Duterte has compared the "war on drugs" with the Holocaust and declared his willingness to "slaughter" the Philippines' 3 million suspected drug abusers.
The government has failed to hold perpetrators of extrajudicial killings accountable. 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 February Senator Leila de Lima, a longtime critic of President Duterte's policies and former Chair of the Senate's Justice and Human Rights Committee, was arrested on charges of abetting the illegal drug trade. Many international observers consider the arrest an attempt by President Duterte to silence parliamentary opposition to his campaign of extrajudicial killings.
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 23 May, after a failed attempt to capture the so-called "emir" of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Southeast Asia, Maute, an ISIL-aligned armed group, overtook portions of Marawi city on the southern island of Mindanao. In response to the crisis, on 24 May President Duterte declared martial law on Mindanao. After several months of fighting, the Philippines' armed forces have retaken the majority of Marawi. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, nearly 360,000 people continue to be displaced. So far, the bodies of 44 civilians have been recovered from the conflict zone. An estimated 350 people remain trapped or held hostage by Maute fighters.
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). 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 extremists of Maute. Civilians are also at risk of being caught in the fighting between Maute and the army.
The government of the Philippines is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Filipinos, 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.
On 10 June the United States Embassy in Manila announced that United States Special Forces were providing the Philippines army with technical support in their fight to retake Marawi.
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings.
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. President Duterte should end martial law as soon as possible upon assuming full control of Marawi.
The UN Human Rights Council should continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines. The government should allow the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings to visit in her official capacity.
States with strong economic and political ties to the Philippines, especially the United States, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending extrajudicial killings. The Philippines government should hold all perpetrators of attacks on civilians accountable.
Last Updated: 15 August 2017