MANILA – The international group Human Rights Watch (HRW) has held Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and the national police “criminally liable” for the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects in the government’s war on drugs.
The HRW also considered the killings as “crimes against humanity.”
The Duterte administration however disputed the findings of the HRW. Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said the extrajudicial killings were not carried out or sanctioned by the Duterte administration and by the police.
In a report consisting of more than hundred pages and titled “License to Kill: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs'”, the New York-based group said: “Duterte and his chief subordinates could be held criminally liable in the Philippines or by a court abroad for their role in these killings.”
“No evidence thus far shows that Duterte planned or ordered specific extrajudicial killings, but his repeated calls for killings as part of his anti-drug campaign could constitute acts instigating law enforcement to commit murder. His statements encouraging the general population to commit vigilante violence against suspected drug users could be criminal incitement,” the report also said.
“As president, Duterte has a legal responsibility to publicly direct state security forces to end their campaign of extrajudicial executions of suspected drug dealers and users,” the report added.
The report was authored by Peter Bouckaert, HRW emergencies director. Bouckaert was in the Philippines in November last year and last January and stayed for weeks investigating the killings and conducting interviews. Bouckaert’s investigation covered 24 police operations where 32 drug suspects were kiled.
Nearly 8,000 drug pushers and users have been killed in the Duterte administration’s anti-illegal drugs operations called “Oplan Tokhang”.
The HRW also accused the PNP of falsifying evidence to justify the extrajudicial killings of drug suspects and that vigilantes who carried out the killings were either working for the police or were actually policemen.
“While the Philippine National Police (has) publicly sought to distinguish between suspects killed while resisting police arrest and killings by ‘unknown gunmen’ or ‘vigilantes,’ Human Rights Watch found no such distinction in the cases investigated.”Our research also shows that the so-called unidentified gunmen involved in these killings were also working in cooperation with the police and are often policemen themselves,” the Bouckaert report said.
“It appears the police themselves are carrying out a lot of the killings,” the report added.
The report then described Duterte’s first six months in office as a “human rights calamity in the Philippines.”
At Malacañang Presidential Palace, Secretary Abella said in a statement that “The observation that the Philippines is in the midst of a ‘human rights calamity’ is thoughtless and irresponsible.”
“Is it human rights calamity when more than 1.1 million drug pushers and addicts have voluntarily submitted themselves to authorities?” he said. “Is it a human rights calamity when rehabilitation centers are being constructed to treat drug dependents? Is it a human rights calamity when the sheer scope and magnitude of the emerging narcostate have been exposed?”
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