Philippines: UN report shows urgent need for international investigation

Responding to a UN report on the human rights situation in the Philippines released today, Amnesty International's Asia-Pacific regional director, Nicholas Bequelin, said:

This long-awaited report is a damning indictment of the Philippine’s ‘war on drugs’.
Nicholas Bequelin, Asia-Pacific regional director

"This long-awaited report is a damning indictment of the Philippine’s ‘war on drugs’. 

“This failed ‘war’ has seen thousands murdered by the police as part of a widespread and systematic attack against poor communities in the name of combatting drugs. Like the UN, we are deeply concerned by the total impunity enjoyed by those who haveperpetrated these crimes, which has allowed for the proliferation of further serious human rights violations in the country.

“The report makes clear the critical need for further investigation into these violations. The UN Human Rights Council must now launch an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other violations committed since 2016. 

“Such a mechanism would be a vital step towards addressing the near-total impunity fuelling ongoing human rights violations in the Philippines, some of which amount to crimes against humanity.

An investigative mechanism would be a vital step towards addressing the near-total impunity fuelling ongoing human rights violations in the Philippines, some of which amount to crimes against humanity.
Nicholas Bequelin, Asia-Pacific regional director

 

“The international community must support this effort and send a clear signal that it will not look the other way while people continue to be killed. It must stand with the countless victims, their families and all human rights defenders bravely challenging the Duterte administration’s atrocities. It is imperative to put an end to the failed strategies documented in today’s report, pursue justice and reparations, and promote new drug policies based on public health and human rights.”

Background

On 4 June 2020, the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) released a report on the situation of human rights in the Philippines. The report details extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations committed in the name of President Duterte's so-called 'war on drugs’, as well as ongoing attacks against the media, human rights defenders and political activists.

The report also notes an environment of near impunity for the killings; falsification of evidence during police raids conducted without warrants; repeated encouragement by the highest government officials to use lethal force in ‘war on drugs’; threats to freedom of expression; and human rights abuses by non-State actors.

The report released today was formally requested by UN Human Rights Council resolution 41/2 adopted on 11 July 2019. The resolution, initiated by Iceland, was the first such resolution on the Philippines, and its adoption followed an extended campaign by national and international civil society groups, including Amnesty International.

Since the beginning of the Duterte administration in June 2016, thousands of individuals mostly from poor and marginalized communities have been killed – either by the police or by unknown armed individuals, at least some with links to the police – in the government’s so-called ‘war on drugs’. Despite condemnation from local and international human rights groups, and the international community, President Duterte has explicitly encouraged police to commit extrajudicial executions and promised them immunity, while implicated police officers have received promotions.

Attacks against human rights defenders and critics of the government—including activists, journalists, lawyers, church leaders, trade union leaders, and individuals and groups affiliated with the political left—have also increased under a climate of complete impunity. Most recently, the government shut down ABS-CBN, the country’s largest TV and radio network, and threatened to kill those violating COVID-19 quarantines and curfews.

Not only has there been almost no accountability for these serious violations; the President and other high-level officials have continued to encourage police to kill. The resulting climate of total impunity has fuelled a pervasive climate of fear for victims of human rights violations and those bringing attention to the situation, and leaves police and others able to commit further extrajudicial executions without consequence.

Human Rights Council resolution 41/2 was an important first step to address the significant deterioration of the human rights situation in the Philippines over the past four years, but it is critical that the Council now takes a more robust approach in response to the serious findings of this initial scoping report. Specifically, Amnesty International is calling for an independent international investigative mechanism on extrajudicial executions and other violations committed since 2016, with the mandate to contribute to accountability.