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Philippines: Thousands dead after Duterte's bloody and lawless first year in power

Since being elected to office one year ago, Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a wide range of human rights’ violations and created a climate of lethal lawlessness, Amnesty International said today (June 30).

President Duterte has explicitly approved violence that has led to thousands of extrajudicial executions in his government’s anti-drug campaign, a death toll already greater than the number of people killed during the murderous rule of Ferdinand Marcos from 1972 to 1981.

In February, Amnesty published a damning investigation that documented how police in the Philippines have come to resemble a criminal enterprise, killing mostly poor people suspected of being drug users and sellers, or paying others to kill them, while stealing the victims’ possessions, planting ‘evidence’ and evading any accountability.

James Gomez, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said:

“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.

“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.”

Amnesty has noted with alarm how there has been no credible investigation into widespread extrajudicial executions, which may amount to crimes against humanity. In response to Amnesty’s report, the Philippines’ Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II chillingly said the people killed were “not humanity”.

In May, when the Philippines’ human rights record was under scrutiny at the UN, more than 40 countries 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 is calling on the Philippines’ government to invite the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions to visit the country 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 have been casually discarded on the street, sometimes with a sign demonising them as “pushers”, suggesting that their actions made their fate inevitable. Meanwhile, police have taken bribes to carry out the killings, working from lists of names drawn up by local officials. The police have also enlisted paid killers to carry out executions for them. Rather than hold police accountable, Duterte has promised to protect them, saying recently that he will not allow any soldier or member of the police force to go to prison, for “destroying the drug industry.”

James Gomez said:

“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.”

The death penalty

The Duterte government’s contempt for international human rights law is glaringly apparent in its attempt to reintroduce 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.

Threats to human rights activists

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, he threatened to “behead” human rights advocates who criticised the country’s record. His biggest critic, Senator Leila de Lima, has been held in police detention since February.

James Gomez said:

“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.“

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