Skip to main content

Philippines: Condemn Surge in Killings of Criminal Suspects

International Drug Agencies Should Seek End to Official ‘Incitement’

Jennelyn Olaires, 26, cradles the body of her partner, who was killed on a street by a vigilante group, according to police, in a spate of drug related killings in Pasay city, Metro Manila, Philippines on July 23, 2016. A sign on a cardboard found near the body reads: "Pusher Ako", which translates to "I am a drug pusher."  © 2016 Reuters/Czar Dancel

Update August 2: The number of signatories to the IDPC joint letter rose to more than 300 after Human Rights Watch had finalized this press release. This news release has been adjusted to reflect this.


(New York) – The International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) should urgently condemn the alarming surge in killings of suspected drug users or dealers in the Philippines, Human Rights Watch said today. These global authorities with responsibility for international drug control should call for an immediate halt to the killings.

In a joint letter drafted by the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC), a network of nongovernmental organizations that focuses on issues related to drug production, trafficking, and use, the consortium urged international drug control agencies to state unequivocally that such killings “do not constitute acceptable drug control measures.” The letter was signed by Human Rights Watch and more than 300 other organizations.

“International drug control agencies need to make clear to Philippines’ President Roderigo Duterte that the surge in killings of suspected drug dealers and users is not acceptable ‘crime control,’ but instead a government failure to protect people’s most fundamental human rights,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Duterte should understand that passive or active government complicity with those killings would contradict his pledge to respect human rights and uphold the rule of law.”

The Philippine Daily Inquirer’s “Kill List,” which is published twice weekly and tallies the killings of suspected drug dealers and users by police and unidentified vigilantes, has recorded a “marked and unmistakable” rise in such killings, the Inquirer said. It recorded 465 deaths between June 30, 2016, the day Duterte assumed office, and August 1.

The current status quo in the Philippines puts human rights, rule of law, and the safety and security of Filipinos in immediate peril.
Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

Official statistics also support assertions of an alarming increase in police killings of drug-related criminal suspects. Philippines National Police data indicate that police killed at least 192 such criminal suspects between May 10 and July 10.That death toll in the two months following Duterte’s electoral victory dwarfs the 68 killings of suspects that police recorded during “anti-drug operations” between January 1 and June 15. Police have attributed the killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” but have not provided further evidence that the police acted in self-defense.

At his inauguration, Duterte identified illegal drugs as one of the country’s top problems and vowed that his government’s anti-drug battle “will be relentless and it will be sustained.” Now in office, Duterte has praised the killings as proof of the “success” of the anti-drug campaign and urged police to “seize the momentum.” After calls for a Senate probe of those killings, the Philippine National Police (PNP) chief, Director-General Ronald dela Rosa, slammed the calls on July 11 as “legal harassment” and said they “dampen the morale” of police officers. That same day, Duterte’s top judicial official, Solicitor-General Jose Calida, defended the legality of the killings and said that the number of such deaths was “not enough.”

In the letter, the consortium calls on the UNODC and INCB to communicate the following messages to the Philippines government:
  • Assert that President Duterte’s actions to incite these extrajudicial killings cannot be justified as being in line with global drug control. All measures taken to control drugs in the Philippines must be grounded in international law;
  • Request that President Duterte put an immediate end to incitements to kill people suspected of committing drug-related offenses;
  • Encourage President Duterte to uphold the rule of law and ensure that the right to due process and a fair trial is guaranteed to all people suspected of committing drug-related crimes, in line with the conclusions of the 2016 UNODC World Drug Report;
  • Promote an evidence-based and health-focused approach to people who use drugs, including voluntary treatment and harm reduction services, instead of compulsory detention, in line with UNODC’s guidance; and
  • In line with the international human rights obligations of the Philippines – and with the official position of both the UNODC and the INCB – call on the Philippines not to re-impose the death penalty for drug offenses.
“International drug control agencies can play an invaluable role in halting the rising body count of suspected drug dealers and users killed by both police and unidentified vigilantes,” Kine said. “The current status quo in the Philippines puts human rights, rule of law, and the safety and security of Filipinos in immediate peril.”


An earlier version of this news release misidentified the International Drug Policy Consortium (IDPC) as the International Drug Control Consortium (IDCC). The news release has been changed to reflect this.

Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.

Region / Country