“War on the Poor”: Human Rights Groups Condemn Duterte’s Anti-Drug Campaign


Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have condemned Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his “war on drugs” this week, after a “pause” was announced in the controversial anti-drug operations.

On January 30, 2017, Philippine National Police Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa declared that the Philippine government would cease anti-drug operations, in order to purge Filipino police ranks – notorious for corruption – of personnel involved in the illegal drug trade. This follows the embarrassing revelations of abuses of power which led to the kidnapping and murder of South Korean businessman, Jee Ick-joo, by anti-drug police on the grounds of the national police headquarters.

Since July 1, 2016, there have been more than 7000 drug-related killings in the Philippines. under the guise of a national campaign to eradicate drugs. Police have reported directly killing 2,551 suspected drug users and dealers in the past seven months. These deaths have been invariably categorised as instances in which suspects “resisted arrest and shot at police officers”. In the same period, 3600 people have also been killed by “unidentified gunman”, despite mounting allegations that at least some, if not most, of these murders have been the result of government-created police “death squads”, coordinated and tasked to “neutralise” suspect lists of drug dealers and users.

Amnesty International’s report, “If you are poor, you are killed” : Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs”, documents 33 cases involving the killings of 59 people. Researchers interviewed 110 people detailing extrajudicial executions in 20 cities across the archipelago, and police reports were examined.

Amnesty’s report details how Filipino anti-drug police target mainly the poor, conduct late night raids, and open fire on unarmed civilians. Witness testimonies allege that the police steal from the people that they kill, and often plant drugs and weapons after the fact, falsifying incident reports to adhere to the narrative that officers acted in self-defence.

“This is not a war on drugs, but a war on the poor”, said Amnesty International’s Crisis Response Director, Tirana Hassan. “Often on the flimsiest of evidence, people accused of using or selling drugs are being killed for cash in an economy of murder.”

She continues: “The way dead bodies are treated shows how cheaply human life is regarded by the Philippines police. Covered in blood, [suspects] are casually dragged in front of horrified relatives, their heads grazing the ground before being dumped out in the open.”

President Duterte, who was elected vowing to be tough on drugs and drug dealers, has denied that the authorities are conducting extrajudicial killings. At the same time, he seems to welcome the death toll as a testament to his policies’ success. During a press conference in September, he said that he would be “happy to slaughter” three million drug addicts, and likened himself to Hitler. He also reassured in a news conference on January 29 that his war on drugs will continue “to the last day of my term”.

Deputy Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, Phelim Kine, noted that “[s]uspending police anti-drug operations could reduce the killings, but they won’t stop without a meaningful investigation into the 7,000 deaths already reported”. He urged the UN to take up the mantle and launch investigations, lest the death toll and long list of grave rights violations increase.

There is a clear need for investigation and accountability for these widespread and systematic murders, which under International Law, are likely to constitute crimes against humanity. The Philippines, as a party to the Rome Statute to the International Criminal Court – and under the principle of complementarity – is required to investigate and prosecute the matters. However, with the authorities apparently deeply involved in the murders, this is unlikely to happen. It is therefore incumbent that the international community and ICC to respond to the crisis.

Chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, has already warned the Philippines that individual prosecutions could ensue from the situation and her office is determining whether to open preliminary investigations.

Lucas Hafey

Lucas Hafey

Correspondent at The Organization for World Peace
Lucas is a final year Law (LLB)(Hons) student, and Arts (BA) Graduate, with majors in History, Politics and International Relations, at the University of Newcastle, Australia.
He is committed to multilateral diplomacy as a means to peaceful conflict resolution and ending impunity for grave international crimes.
Lucas loves to travel, explore the outdoors and can often be found half-asleep on Monday mornings after a weekend of late nights watching the English Premier League.
Lucas Hafey

About Lucas Hafey

Lucas is a final year Law (LLB)(Hons) student, and Arts (BA) Graduate, with majors in History, Politics and International Relations, at the University of Newcastle, Australia. He is committed to multilateral diplomacy as a means to peaceful conflict resolution and ending impunity for grave international crimes. Lucas loves to travel, explore the outdoors and can often be found half-asleep on Monday mornings after a weekend of late nights watching the English Premier League.