(New York, August 10, 2016) – The Philippines’ new president, Rodrigo Duterte, should focus efforts on tackling the country’s persistent human rights problems, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to the president.
Human Rights Watch makes specific recommendations concerning extrajudicial and summary killings, the lack of accountability for abuses by the security forces, the protection of indigenous peoples and ethnic and religious minorities, internal displacement, reproductive health, children’s rights, and the worsening HIV epidemic.
“President Duterte has an opportunity to reverse the failings of previous administrations by giving priority to the human rights problems that have persisted in the country,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Duterte needs to act decisively to signal that his government will protect the rights of all Filipinos and roll back the country’s culture of impunity.”
During his presidential campaign and his first weeks in office, Duterte has encouraged the use of lethal force against drug dealers and users – and there has been an alarming increase in killings of suspected drug dealers and users by unidentified gunmen and police. Duterte should publicly disavow vigilante violence and excessive or unnecessary use of force by police, urge respect for human rights and due legal process, and launch an immediate and impartial investigation into the upsurge in killings since he took office.
Widespread impunity for members of the state security forces involved in serious human rights abuses remains a problem, Human Rights Watch said. Duterte should direct the military to stop targeting leftist activists, including indigenous and labor leaders, and press for full investigations and prosecutions in killings and enforced disappearances.
Duterte should also address health issues that remain a major concern, Human Rights Watch said. In January 2016, the Philippine Congress eliminated funding for contraception guaranteed under the Responsible Parenthood and Reproductive Health Law, cutting vital support for lower-income Filipinos who rely on state assistance for safe birth-spacing and family planning, and for protection from sexually transmitted infections. Some local governments have sought to pass ordinances or adopt policies to derail full enforcement of the law. Duterte should press Congress to restore funding for family planning and make clear that the government will overturn any local ordinance that would prohibit the sale and distribution of contraceptive supplies.
The Philippines currently has the fastest growing epidemic of HIV/AIDS in the world. Duterte should instruct the Department of Health to launch a national condom-use promotion program that targets vulnerable populations and reinstate the national harm reduction program that empowered municipal governments to provide clean hypodermic syringes to intravenous drug users to discourage HIV transmission from needle-sharing.
“The Philippines faces a range of serious human rights problems, from killings and torture to public health,” Kine said. “For Duterte’s presidency to be successful, he needs to dispense with his rhetoric of brutality, and instead press for laws and policies that advance human rights.”