7,000 deaths and counting: HRW says Duterte liable for rights ‘calamity’ in PHL

Mar. 02, 2017

DAVAO CITY, Philippines—An international human rights organization said that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte could be held liable for “crimes against humanity” as his bloody war on drugs claimed more than 7,000 deaths.

In its 117-page report, titled “License to Kill” released on Thursday, the New York-based Human Rights Watch provided some specific details on how the government operationalized its campaign which apparently linked to the thousands of drug-related killings perpetrated by the law enforcement personnel.

“Our investigations into the Philippine ‘drug war’ found that police routinely kill drug suspects in cold blood and then cover up their crime by planting drugs and guns at the scene,” Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch said.

Bouckaert, author of the HRW report, said that apart from Duterte, “other senior officials have instigated and incited killings of mostly urban poor.” He, however, pointed out that the “president’s role in these killings makes him ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands.”

He said pointed the Philippine National Police for carrying out what it termed as “extrajudicial killings” of drug suspects and then falsely claimed self-defense.

“They plant guns, spent ammunition, and drug packets on their victims’ bodies to implicate them in drug activities. Masked gunmen taking part in killings appeared to be working closely with the police, casting doubt on government claims that the majority of killings have been committed by vigilantes or rival drug gangs,” the rights group officer said.

“While the Philippine National Police (PNP) have publicly sought to distinguish between suspects killed while resisting police arrest and killings by ‘unknown gunmen’ or ‘vigilantes,’ HRW said it found no such distinction in all the cases investigated, adding the police have also failed to investigate the killings.

“Philippine authorities have failed to seriously investigate drug war killings by either the police or “unidentified gunmen,” he said. Although the PNP has classified a total of 922 killings as “cases where investigation has concluded,” HRW said that there is no evidence that those probes have resulted in the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.

The HRW officer said that they interviewed around 28 family members of victims and witnesses to police killings, journalists and human rights activists—all based in Manila. Apart from these, HRW also documented 24 incidents that resulted in the deaths of 32 people.

With this, HRW urged the United Nations to create an independent, international investigation into the killings to determine responsibility, and ensure mechanisms for accountability.

“Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’ could more aptly be described as crimes against humanity targeting the urban poor,” Bouckaert said. “Whether local outrage, global pressure, or an international inquiry brings these killings to an end, someday they will stop and those responsible will be brought to justice.”

Presidential Spokesperson Ernesto Abella called the report “thoughtless and irresponsible.”

“The observation that the Philippines is in the midst of a ‘human rights calamity’ is thoughtless and irresponsible,” Abella said in a statement.

He said the government is waging a war on criminality and “not a war on humanity.” Abella also dismissed the “planting of evidence” as a mere allegation.(davaotoday.com)

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