Philippine anti-drug war gave police force ‘permission to kill’ – UN rights report


Tens of thousands of people may have been killed during President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs in the Philippines, according to a UN report that warns of “near impunity” and calls for an independent investigation into the abuses.

The anti-narcotics crackdown in the Philippines, launched by the president after he won the 2016 election on a promise to rid the country of drugs, appears to have resulted in “widespread and systematic” extrajudicial killings, the report says.

The UN human rights office, OHCHR said that rhetoric by the highest officials has potentially emboldened police to behave as though they have “permission to kill”.

The UN office noted that the High Commissioner for Human Rights stood ready to assist “credible efforts towards accountability”, both nationally and internationally.

“The Philippines faces major challenges – structural poverty, inequality, armed conflict, frequent natural disasters, and now the COVID-19 crisis,” Michelle Bachelet said in a statement.

She said that it was “vital the Government’s responses be grounded in human-rights approaches… unfortunately, the report has documented deep-seated impunity for serious human rights violations, and victims have been deprived of justice for the killings of their loved ones. Their testimonies are heartbreaking.”

According to the report – mandated by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2019 amid widespread international concern – police forces received a “command circular” containing terminology referring to the “negation” and “neutralization” of drug suspects, echoing pledges made by President Rodrigo Duterte.

“This ominous-sounding language was never really defined in this command circular, but this language, coupled with verbal encouragement at the highest level of government for police to kill drug suspects, may have been interpreted as permission to kill”, co-author Ravina Shamdasani said.

She noted that raids on private households were routinely carried out without warrants, while police reports where alleged drug suspects had been killed, shared “very similarlanguage”, raising the question whether they had been completed “pro forma”, rather than describing operations as they really happened.

Ms. Shamdasani also highlighted police claims of “self-defence” after it was found that officers “repeatedly recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations”, suggesting some victims were unarmed at the time of their killing.

Arrests of suspected drug offenders have also contributed to a 534% prison congestion rate – among the highest in the world, the UN report noted.

The arrival of the new coronavirus had not caused a change in government security policy, the report noted, with killings confirmed of drug suspects and human rights defenders in the first four months of the year.

“The violations that we document in the report are very much ongoing”, said Ms. Shamdasani. “The killing and the campaign against illegal drugs are not over, even in the context of the COVID pandemic.”

The OHCHR report is based on 893 written submissions, with substantial input from thegovernment of the Philippines, analysis of legislation, police reports, court documents, videos, photos and other open source material, as well as interviews with victims and witnesses.

It is due to be discussed at the next UN Human Rights Council session. (Source: UN News)