Skip to main content

The Philippines’ Duterte Incites Vigilante Violence

President Encourages the Jobless to Kill Drug Addicts

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s has a perverse idea for a job creation program: Hire the unemployed to kill criminal suspects.

On Tuesday, Duterte welcomed a returning group of overseas Filipino workers by telling them, “If you lose your job, I’ll give you one. Kill all the drug addicts.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte speaks during a meeting with the Filipino community in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, April 12, 2017. © 2017 Reuters

Duterte’s latest exhortation for vigilante killings comes as no surprise. He has made repeated calls on the public to kill drug addicts as part of his anti-drug campaign. On June 30, he instructed the Philippine public, “If you know of any addicts, go ahead and kill them yourself as getting their parents to do it would be too painful.” These calls could constitute criminal incitement to commit murder.

Duterte has also repeatedly called for the Philippine National Police to target suspected drug users and drug dealers with extrajudicial violence, which could be considered instigating law enforcement to commit murder. On August 6, he warned suspected drug dealers: “My order is shoot to kill you. I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.”

The appalling death toll linked to Duterte’s “drug war” suggests that his public calls for extrajudicial violence have found a receptive audience. Since Duterte took office on June 30, 2016, police and unidentified gunmen together have killed more than 7,000 suspected drug users and dealers. Police claim to have killed 2,690 people, but this number doesn’t include the drug war victims Duterte calls “collateral damage” – including children killed by stray police bullets.

Human Rights Watch research has turned the official narrative on its head: We found that many of the 3,271 killings the police attribute to “vigilantes” and drug gangs are a veneer to shield themselves and police agents from culpability in death-squad-style extrajudicial executions.

Duterte and senior government ministers who are responsible for the abusive drug war are on notice that they are implicated in serious crimes. The fact that Duterte’s killing campaign has targeted a distinct population – urban slum dwellers – means the killings could amount to crimes against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court, of which the Philippines is a member. The Philippine people should reject Duterte’s drug war and join the growing international chorus for accountability for its thousands of victims.

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

Region / Country