Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office during June 2016, thousands of people have been extrajudicially killed during his proclaimed “war on drugs.” According to Philippines government figures 6,600 suspects have been killed in police operations. However the independent Philippine Commission on Human Rights has stated deaths could number up to 27,000. Thousands more have been killed by unidentified gunman carrying out vigilante-style executions of alleged drug offenders. President Duterte has previously encouraged vigilantes to join his campaign.
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 former 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 by arresting, imprisoning and removing his critics from their government posts and threatening to abolish the constitutionally-mandated Commission on Human Rights.
Most perpetrators have not been held accountable. On 29 November 2018 the three officers involved in the August 2017 murder of Kian Loyd delos Santos were convicted of murder and sentenced to life imprisonment, marking the first prosecution of PNP officers involved in the “war on drugs.” Delos Santos’ death sparked domestic and international outcry when CCTV footage and witness testimony implicated police officers in carrying out a summary execution. Human Rights Watch has also routinely reported since 2017 that official reports of killings committed during the “war on drugs” are often contradicted by eyewitness accounts and that police have routinely planted evidence
There have been numerous attempts to halt the so-called “war on drugs” and hold perpetrators accountable at the International Criminal Court (ICC). Philippine lawyers filed a Supreme Court injunction on 11 October 2017 in an attempt to halt the “war on drugs.” On 24 April 2017, Jude Sabio, a Philippine lawyer, filed a complaint with the 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 2017 urging the ICC to conduct a preliminary examination. On 28 August 2018 activists and the families of eight victims of the so-called “war on drugs” filled another complaint with the ICC accusing President Duterte of murder and crimes against humanity.
Filipinos are at risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity. 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. By openly calling for armed vigilantes to join his “war on drugs” and promising amnesty for police officers involved in drug-related killings, President Duterte has actively promoted an atmosphere of impunity for murder. President Duterte has also used his widespread public support to legitimize the killings.
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.
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 small arms and ammunition. Russia has also donated assault rifles to the PNP.
On 8 March 2017 then UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, called for an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. On 5 July 2019 the HRC finally passed its first resolution on the situation of human rights in the Philippines requesting the High Commissioner for Human Rights to issue a report on the situation.
On 8 February 2018 the Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, announced the opening of a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity committed in the Philippines “war on drugs.” The Philippines has subsequently withdrawn from membership in the Court.
UN Human Rights Council-authorized mechanisms have brought their concerns to the Philippine government on 33 occasions over the last three years. On 7 June 2019 a group of 11 UN Special Rapporteurs called upon the Human Rights Council to establish an international investigation into ongoing human rights violations in the Philippines.
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings. The government of the Philippines should also allow access to UN special procedures mandate holders.
The HRC should continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines. The international community should establish an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings and the “war on drugs.”
States with strong economic and political ties to the Philippines, especially the United States and China, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending extrajudicial killings.
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