Populations at Risk
The government's "war on drugs" leaves civilians in the Philippines at risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office during June 2016, over 9,000 people have been extrajudicially killed during his proclaimed "war on drugs," although the number is likely significantly higher. More than 3,900 people have been killed in police operations while thousands of deaths have been attributed to unidentified gunmen who carry out vigilante-style executions of alleged drug offenders. President Duterte has previously encouraged vigilantes to join his campaign.
President Duterte has compared his "war on drugs" with the Holocaust and declared his willingness to "slaughter" millions of suspected drug abusers. Other high-ranking government officials have echoed these sentiments, including the former Justice Secretary, who stated that the killings could not be deemed crimes against humanity as drug offenders were not "part of humanity." President Duterte has silenced those opposed to the killings, including by imprisoning a parliamentary opponent and threatening to abolish the constitutionally-mandated Commission on Human Rights.
On 24 April 2017, Jude Sabio, a Philippine lawyer, filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC) accusing President Duterte and 11 other senior officials of crimes against humanity and mass murder. Two Philippine legislators filed a supplemental communication on 6 June urging the ICC to conduct a preliminary examination. Philippine lawyers also filed a Supreme Court injunction on 11 October in an attempt to halt the "war on drugs." On 14 2018 March the Philippines announced its intention to withdraw from the ICC shortly after the ICC announced the opening of a preliminary examination into the alleged killings in the "war on drugs."
On 2 March 2017 Human Rights Watch released a report on the Philippines National Police (PNP), noting that official reports of killings committed during the "war on drugs" are often contradicted by eyewitness accounts and that police have routinely planted evidence. Most perpetrators have not been held accountable. On 7 February 2018 the Caloocan City regional trial court in Manila issued the first arrest warrants for PNP officers involved in the "war on drugs," charging three officers in the August 2017 murder of Kian Loyd delos Santos. Delos Santos' death sparked domestic and international outcry when CCTV footage and witness testimony implicated police officers in carrying out a summary execution.
During May 2017 Maute, an armed group affiliated with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, seized parts of Marawi city causing President Duterte to declare martial law on the southern island of Mindanao. Subsequent fighting between the army and Maute displaced over 360,000 people. On 23 October the Philippines military formally declared that the city had been retaken. Nevertheless, martial law was extended until December 2018.
While the government of the Philippines has sovereign authority to maintain law and order within its borders, including by punishing those who deal in illegal drugs and commit acts of terrorism, it is obligated to do so with respect to International Human Rights Law. By openly calling for armed vigilantes to join his "war on drugs," President Duterte has actively promoted an atmosphere of impunity for murder. Filipinos are at risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity.
The government of the Philippines is failing to uphold its Responsibility to Protect all Filipinos from crimes against humanity, including those accused of drug offenses.
During November 2016 the United States halted the sale of 26,000 assault rifles to the PNP and reallocated $4.5 million in aid to maritime security and human rights training, citing concerns over human rights violations. Other states have continued to donate arms to the PNP including China, which recently transferred over $3 million worth of small arms and ammunition. Russia has also donated assault rifles to the PNP.
On 8 March 2017 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called for an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines. During May 2017 the Human Rights Council (HRC) conducted its Universal Periodic Review of the Philippines, issuing 257 recommendations including halting and investigating extrajudicial killings. The Philippines government rejected 154 of the recommendations.
On 8 February 2018 the Prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, announced the opening of a preliminary examination into possible crimes against humanity committed in the Philippines "war on drugs."
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings.
The HRC should continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines. The international community should establish an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings and the "war on drugs."
States with strong economic and political ties to the Philippines, especially the United States and China, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending extrajudicial killings.
Last Updated: 14 May 2018
The five most recent issues of R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert are available in the side-bar. To see previous assessments of this country, please see R2P Monitor and Atrocity Alert on our Publications page. The Philippines has been featured in the R2P Monitor from November 2016 through January 2018 and has since been periodically updated on our website.