Philippines: Duterte’s bloody and lawless year in power
Since assuming the presidency of the Philippines a year ago, Rodrigo Duterte and his administration have presided over a wide range of human rights of violations, intimidated and imprisoned critics, and created a climate of lawlessness, Amnesty International said today.
Using the highest office in the country, Duterte has explicitly approved violence that has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions, in the government’s anti-drug campaign. This surpasses even the number of people killed during the murderous rule of Ferdinand Marcos from 1972-1981.
“Duterte came to power vowing to rid the Philippines of crime. Instead, people have been killed in the thousands by - or at the behest of - a police force that acts outside the law, on the orders of a President who has shown nothing but contempt for human rights and the people who stand up for them,” said James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.
“Duterte’s violent campaign has not ended crime or solved the problems associated with drugs. What it has done is turn the country into an even more dangerous place, further undermined the rule of law, and earned him notoriety as a leader responsible for the death of thousands of his own citizens.”
In February, Amnesty International published a damning investigation that documented how the police have come to resemble a criminal enterprise, killing mostly poor people suspected to be drug users and sellers, or paying others to kill them, while stealing the victims’ possessions, planting evidence and evading any accountability.
Duterte’s violent campaign has not ended crime or solved the problems associated with drugs. What it has done is turn the country into an even more dangerous place, further undermined the rule of law, and earned him notoriety as a leader responsible for the death of thousands of his own citizens
The human rights organization has noted with alarm how there has been no credible investigation into the widespread extrajudicial executions, which may amount to crimes against humanity. In response to Amnesty International’s report, the Philippines’ Justice Secretary chillingly said the people killed were “not humanity”.
In May, when the Philippines’ human rights record was put to scrutiny in the UN Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review, more than 40 states raised concerns about the wave of extrajudicial executions and the government’s plans to revive the death penalty for drug-related offences – a violation of the Philippines’ obligations under international law.
Amnesty International is calling on the government to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions to visit the country officially and for the Human Rights Council to initiate an UN-led investigation into the ‘war on drugs’.
A war on the poor
Duterte’s so-called war on drugs has overwhelmingly targeted people from the poorest neighbourhoods. In the slums of Filipino cities, bloodied bodies are casually discarded on the street, sometimes with a sign demonizing them as “pushers”, suggesting that their actions made their fate inevitable.
The police have taken under the table payments to carry out the killings, working from lists of names drawn up by local officials. The police have also enlisted paid killers to do their dirty work for them.
Rather than hold police accountable, Duterte has promised to protect them, saying recently that he will not allow any soldier or police to go to prison, for “destroying the drug industry.” In a high-profile case of Mayor Rolando Espinosa Sr. of Albuera town, and his cell-mate, being shot dead while in police custody, charges against the police were downgraded from murder to homicide – no longer reflecting the gravity of the crime.
“The Duterte government has resisted accountability at every stage. There has been no credible investigation by the authorities and there has been no cooperation with the UN Special Rapporteur. The Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court may order a preliminary investigation into the mass killings. Given the rampant impunity, this may be the best option,” said James Gomez.
When human rights and the rule of law are cast aside, police become rogue and emboldened and ordinary people suffer
The death penalty
The Duterte government’s contempt for international human rights law is glaringly apparent in its attempt to re-introduce the death penalty for drug-related offences. The move would be unlawful as the Philippines is a state party to the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Executing people for drug-related offences is also a violation of international law.
“In a year when the Philippines chairs ASEAN, and should encourage other Member States to get rid of this cruel and irreversible punishment, Duterte is leading the region in the wrong direction, with grave consequences for people’s lives. The Philippines’ Senate must reject this attempt to set the country back and drop the death penalty bill once and for all,” said James Gomez.
Threats to human rights defenders
In the past year, President Duterte has also threatened to ‘kill’ human rights activists, and in a statement made at the Presidential Palace in May 2017, he threatened to ‘behead’ human rights advocates who criticized the country’s record. His biggest critic, Senator Leila de Lima, has been locked away in police detention.
“There is a danger of lawlessness spreading in the country. When human rights and the rule of law are cast aside, police become rogue and emboldened and ordinary people suffer. Security forces have a duty to abide by international law and standards. When they don’t, there is nothing differentiating them from the people they are supposed to be confronting,” said James Gomez.
The government’s deadly anti-drug campaign, has also distracted it from other challenges in the country. On 23 May 2017, Duterte declared martial law on the southern island of Mindanao for a period of 60 days as the security forces were caught by surprise by armed groups that overran Marawi City. Under international law, emergency measures must be limited in scope, and duration, and cannot be another excuse to ignore human rights.