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. Ongoing fighting between extremist armed groups and the government for control of the city of Marawi also puts civilians at risk of atrocities on the island of Mindanao.
Since President Rodrigo Duterte took office during June 2016, almost 9,000 people have been extrajudicially killed in his proclaimed "war on drugs." More than 2,555 people have been killed in police operations while the remainder of the killings has been attributed to unidentified gunmen who carry out vigilante-style executions of alleged drug offenders. President Duterte has publicly encouraged vigilantes to join his campaign and has extended his death threats to human rights defenders and lawyers representing those arrested for drug offenses. President Duterte has compared the "war on drugs" with the Holocaust and declared his willingness to "slaughter" the Philippines' 3 million suspected drug abusers.
The government has failed to hold perpetrators of extrajudicial killings accountable. During October a Philippines Senate Committee abandoned investigations into extrajudicial killings. On 1 February the Philippines Justice Secretary stated the killings could not be deemed "crimes against humanity" as drug offenders were not "part of humanity." On 24 February Senator Leila de Lima, a longtime critic of President Duterte's policies and former Chair of the Senate's Justice and Human Rights Committee, was arrested on charges of abetting the illegal drug trade. International observers have deemed the arrest an attempt by President Duterte to silence parliamentary opposition to his campaign of extrajudicial killings.
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. A Philippine Senator and Representative filed a supplemental communication on 6 June urging the ICC to conduct a preliminary examination.
On 23 May, after a failed attempt to capture the so-called "emir" of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in Southeast Asia, Maute, an ISIL-aligned armed group, overtook portions of Marawi city on the southern island of Mindanao. Religiously-motivated violence has since been reported, including the execution of at least eight people believed to be Christians. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, over 471,000 people have been displaced since President Duterte declared martial law in Mindanao. After several weeks of fighting, the Philippines' armed forces have retaken the majority of Marawi. However, an estimated 350 people remain trapped or held hostage by Maute fighters.
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, 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 United States Special Forces were providing the Philippines army with technical support in their fight to retake Marawi.
National authorities in the Philippines must restore the rule of law and immediately halt widespread extrajudicial killings.
The government should immediately remove unreasonable conditions imposed upon the UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial killings and allow her to visit in her official capacity.
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. The Philippines government should hold all perpetrators of attacks on civilians accountable.
Last Updated: 17 July 2017