(New York) – The United Nations should lead an independent international investigation into alleged unlawful killings by the Philippine police linked to President Rodrigo Duterte’s abusive “War on Drugs,” Human Rights Watch said today. On January 30, 2017, Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa declared a pause in anti-drug operations for “internal cleansing” following revelations this month of the alleged brutal killing of a South Korean businessman by anti-drug police.
Since July 1, more than 7,000 Filipinos have been killed in Duterte’s anti-drug campaign. However, not a single police officer is known to have been prosecuted for extrajudicial executions or related crimes. Dela Rosa made clear that the suspension of police operations is temporary and that investigations are to purge police ranks of personnel implicated in the illegal drug trade, not provide accountability for unlawful killings. Duterte stated in a January 29 news conference that the “drug war” will continue “to the last day of my term,” indicating that the abuses will continue indefinitely.
“Suspending police anti-drug operations could reduce the killings, but they won’t stop without a meaningful investigation into the 7,000 deaths already reported,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director. “The Philippine police won’t seriously investigate themselves, so the UN should take the lead in conducting an investigation.”
Police have reported killing 2,551 suspected drug users and dealers in the past seven months. Police have attributed those killings to suspects who “resisted arrest and shot at police officers,” but have not provided further evidence that police acted in self-defense. The Philippine National Police (PNP) have failed to investigate or prosecute any personnel responsible for those deaths despite compelling evidence that some police units are summarily gunning down suspects. Dela Rosa’s announcement also makes no mention of an additional 3,603 killings by “unidentified gunmen” since July 1, despite mounting allegations that “death squads,” composed of police personnel operating in civilian clothes, are committing some and perhaps many of those killings.
The abduction and killing in October of South Korean businessman Jee Ick-joo, allegedly by anti-drug police officers within the headquarters of the Philippine National Police in Manila, suggests that police officers are exploiting the “drug war” for corrupt personnel gain.
A nongovernmental anti-crime group has documented at least 11 additional cases in recent months in which anti-drug police personnel are implicated “in procuring search warrants and instead of searching, they demand ransom from the victims.” Senator Panfilo Lacson, a former police chief, played a video during a January 26 Senate session alleging that a police anti-drug unit planted illegal drugs during a raid on a business office. The Philippine police have a long history of corruption, exemplified by the US State Department declaration that the police are the most abusive law enforcement agency in the Philippines. In his remarks on January 29, Duterte declared that 40 percent of the police force are “corrupt to the core.”
The Philippine government has effectively undermined prior United Nations efforts to investigate the “drug war” killings. The Philippine foreign minister announced on December 14 that the government had canceled the planned official visit of UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, Agnes Callamard, on the basis that she “will not comply with the conditions of our president” for such a visit. One of those conditions, which Callamard described as “not consistent with the code of conduct for special rapporteurs,” included requiring her to participate in a “public debate” with Duterte. Callamard explained that condition could compromise the confidentiality of victim testimonies. Senior UN officials should press the Philippine government to lift those conditions and allow Callamard and other designated UN officials to have free and unfettered access to the Philippines to investigate the circumstances of “drug war” killings and report their findings.
“Unless there is an independent international investigation into these killings, and soon, the already long list of grave rights violations linked to the ‘drug war’ will only continue to grow,” Kine said.