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 12,500 people have been extrajudicially killed during his proclaimed "war on drugs." More than 3,500 people have been killed in police operations while over 2,200 deaths have been attributed to unidentified gunmen who carry out vigilante-style executions of alleged drug offenders. The cause of the remaining deaths remains unclear. President Duterte has publicly encouraged vigilantes to join his campaign and has extended his death threats to human rights defenders.
Between 14-18 August over 90 people were killed during the deadliest week since President Duterte took office. Among those killed was Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old student. Delos Santos' death sparked domestic and international outcry when CCTV footage and witness testimony implicated police officers in carrying out a summary execution. On 21 August President Duterte ordered the Philippines National Police to launch an investigation. The Philippines Commission on Human Rights and the Senate have both announced plans to investigate the surge in extrajudicial killings, despite Senate members previously supporting the President's "war on drugs."
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 Philippines 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 through imprisoning a parliamentary opponent and threatening to abolish the constitutionally-mandated Commission on Human Rights.
On 24 April 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.
On 23 May Maute, an armed group aligned with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, overtook portions of Marawi city causing President Duterte to declare martial law on the southern island of Mindanao. Despite the Philippines' armed forces retaking the majority of Marawi, nearly 360,000 people continue to be displaced by fighting.
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 (IHRL). Filipinos are at growing risk of extrajudicial killings that may amount to crimes against humanity. By openly calling upon armed vigilantes to join the "war on drugs," President Duterte has actively promoted an atmosphere of impunity.
In Mindanao Christian Filipinos are at a heightened risk of being targeted by armed extremists of Maute. Civilians are also at risk of being caught in the fighting between Maute and the army.
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.
On 8 March the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, called for an independent investigation into extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
On 10 June the United States Embassy in Manila announced that Special Forces were providing the Philippines army with technical support in their fight to retake Marawi. During August Australia offered to send troops to train Philippines military forces in the fight against Maute.
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings. The Philippines Senate should ensure that a substantial and credible investigation into extrajudicial killings and the "war on drugs" is undertaken.
Government forces should ensure that military operations to retake Marawi are consistent with IHRL and make every possible effort to protect civilians. President Duterte should end martial law as soon as possible upon assuming full control of Marawi.
The UN Human Rights Council should continue to closely monitor the situation in the Philippines.
States with strong economic and political ties to the Philippines, especially the United States, must increase diplomacy aimed at ending extrajudicial killings.
Last Updated: 15 September 2017