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Indonesia Dishonors Rule of Law with Award to Philippines’ Top Cop

Medal of Honor a Gross Insult to ‘Drug War’ Victims

Ronald Dela Rosa talks to President Rodrigo Duterte at the Malacanang presidential palace in metro Manila, Philippines, January 19, 2017. © 2017 Romeo Ranoco/Reuters

The Indonesian government debased the rule of law today by awarding Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald dela Rosa its highest honor, the Medal of Honor.

Indonesia’s National Police Chief, Gen. Tito Karnavian, praised dela Rosa for his “rock star-like inspiration to the Indonesian national police and the Indonesian people on how to fight the war on drugs.” That’s a perverse  assessment of a Philippine government official implicated in possible crimes against humanity for inciting and instigating killings linked to the government’s “war on drugs.”

Since June 2016, that campaign has killed more than 12,000 people, according to estimates from reliable nongovernmental organizations and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines. Most victims, including a number of children, have been urban slum dwellers. Human Rights Watch and investigative journalists have documented that many of those deaths amount to extrajudicial killings by Philippine police personnel and their agents. Dela Rosa has obstructed calls for accountability for those deaths by dismissing requests for independent investigations as “legal harassment” and declaring that such demands “dampens the morale” of police officers. 

The handful of prosecutions of police personnel implicated in the killings have not resulted in convictions. In July, dela Rosa reinforced the anti-drug campaign’s culture of impunity by reinstating 18 police officers facing homicide charges in the 2016 killing of Rolando Espinosa Sr., mayor of Albuera, on Leyte island. This, despite compelling evidence that the officers committed “premeditated murder” when they shot Espinosa to death in a Manila jail cell on November 5, 2016. 

Indonesia’s police chief Karnavian has expressed fondness for violent extrajudicial approaches to illegal drug use previously. In July he publicly touted the shooting of drug dealers as the ideal approach. That’s possible instigation of deadly violence given that a University of Melbourne analysis indicates that Indonesian police killed an estimated 49 suspected drug dealers in the first six months of 2017. That is a sharp rise from 14 such killings in all of 2016 and 10 in 2015. Ominously, more than one third of the total police killings in Indonesia from January to June 2017 occurred after the suspects had surrendered to police.

Indonesian President Joko Widodo should join calls for a United Nations-led international investigation into the Philippine “drug war” rather than honoring one of its chief architects.

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