PH drug war killings reach 'threshold of crimes against humanity' – report

MANILA, Philippines – The human rights violations under President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-illegal drugs campaign have “reached the threshold of crimes against humanity,” Amnesty International said. 

In its latest report, “They Just Kill,” published on Monday, July 8, the human rights group said the extrajudicial killings are “deliberate and systematic” in nature and appear to be part of a “government-orchestrated attack against poor people” allegedly involved in illegal drugs. 

Duterte’s violent war on drugs has led to at least 6,000 suspected drug personalities killed in police operations. Human rights groups meanwhile pegged the number at more than 20,000 including those killed vigilante-style. (READ: The Impunity Series

There is already sufficient evidence to conclude that these incidents constitute crimes against humanity, which are defined as “widespread or systematic attacks directed against any civilian population,” Amnesty International said.  

The report is the second the group released on Duterte's drug war with its 2017 report detailing stories of alleged police corruption and abuse.

Same patterns

The human rights group investigated 20 incidents (18 in police operations with two by unknown individuals) with a total of 27 people killed in Bulacan. The team interviewed a total of 58 people, including families of victims and witnesses of the executions. (READ: Central Luzon: New killing fields in Duterte's drug war)

The report identified patterns in “practically all cases” it examined, including police claims that the victims fought back despite families saying their killed relatives did not own a gun as they have no money to even get one. (READ: In the PH drug war, it's likely EJK when...)

“The victims of the drug-related killings examined by Amnesty International were overwhelmingly from poor and marginalized communities, in line with past research findings showing that the government’s anti-drug efforts chiefly target the poor,” it said. 

The findings of the latest report corroborate previous documentations by Amnesty International and other groups, which also include a “consistent pattern of police tampering with crime scenes, rigging evidence, and falsifying reports.” 

Families are also unable to file cases against those responsible. They told Amnesty International that their requests for documents, including police reports or blotters, are denied.  (READ: Duterte gov't allows 'drug war' deaths to go unsolved)

“Police reports that describe the circumstances of their loved one’s death are necessary for challenging the police’s version of events,” the report said. “As such, building a case almost always hinges upon the sharing of documents by police, which is now a dead end.”

They are also “turned away from police stations, either informed that the relevant investigator was not there, or given the runaround from station to station.”  

These findings are consistent with what other groups, including the Commission on Human Rights, have said pertaining to requests. State agents, mainly the Philippine National Police, have repeatedly denied the release of documents related to the war on drugs. (READ: Evading probes? The many times Duterte admin didn't give drug war documents)

In April 2018, the Supreme Court ordered the release of tens of thousands of documents related to the killings to the Center for International Law (CenterLaw) and the Free Legal Assistance Group (FLAG). The decision thumbed down Solicitor General Jose Calida’s argument that arguing the release will put national security at risk.

Investigations needed

Amnesty International called on Duterte to end his drug war and enforce a policy that “puts the protection of people’s health and rights at the center,” among others.  

The UN HRC, it said, should “adopt a resolution to create an independent, impartial and effective investigation into human rights violations in the context of the ‘war on drugs,’ including into the commission of crimes under international law, to establish the facts and circumstances, and take steps toward ensuring justice for the victims and their families.”

A resolution filed by Iceland seeking actions against the killings is up for voting at the UN HRC. If approved, it will request rights chief Michelle Bachelet prepare a comprehensive report and will urge the government to cooperate with UN offices and mechanisms by facilitating country visits and “refraining from all acts of intimidation or retaliation.” 

The ICC, meanwhile, is conducting its own preliminary examination which will determine whether there is sufficient evidence to establish that the case against Duterte falls under its jurisdiction. (READ: Duterte throws out decade-long fight for the International Criminal Court) 

In December 2018, the ICC Office of the Prosecutor said it has “further closely followed relevant developments in the Philippines and will continue to do so.” – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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