President Trump Should Urge Philippines President to Halt Extrajudicial Killings Being Executed in the Name of “War on Drugs”

By Joanne Lin, National Director, Advocacy and Government Affairs

On November 12 Donald Trump will make his first visit as president to the Philippines. There he will meet with Rodrigo Duterte who became Philippines President in June 2016. Since taking office, Duterte has waged a lethal “war on drugs” which has exacted a devastating human rights toll. Between July 1, 2016 and January 21, 2017, there were more than 7,000 drug-related killings — an average of 34 per day — exceeding 1,000 people per month. Under the guise of a national campaign to eradicate drugs, the Philippines National Police (“PNP”) have committed at least 2,500 drug-related killings.

Acting on instructions from the Duterte administration, the PNP have killed and paid others to kill thousands of alleged drug offenders in a wave of extrajudicial executions that may amount to crimes against humanity. Often on the flimsiest of evidence, the PNP have killed people accused of using or selling drugs. The victims overwhelmingly reside in impoverished areas, and their names have been added to “death lists,” often based on hearsay with little to no verification.

Under President Duterte, the PNP have not only committed extrajudicial killings but have also profited from the killings through an elaborate economy of murder. In our February 2017 report, If You Are Poor, You Are Killed”: Extrajudicial Executions in the Philippines’ “War on Drugs,” Amnesty International (“AI”) detailed how the PNP operates like criminal syndicates: killing people on nightly basis, receiving under-the-table payments for kills, colluding with funeral parlors to profit from the deaths, stealing victims’ possessions, planting evidence, and evading any meaningful accountability for even the most blatant abuses. President Duterte has gone as far as promising to pardon PNP officers if they are convicted for killings linked to the “drug war.”

In addition, President Duterte has threatened to “kill”, “shoot” and “behead” human rights defenders, journalists, and critics of his “war on drugs.” One of the biggest critics of the “war on drugs,” Senator Leila de Lima, has been jailed on politically motivated drug charges since February 2017 and is an AI prisoner of conscience.

Recognizing the severity and scale of these human rights abuses, the U.S. Congress’ Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission held a July 2017 hearing on the “Human Rights Consequences of the War on Drugs in the Philippines.” President Duterte is well aware of Congress’ disapproval of his execution of his “war on drugs.”

Now is the time for President Trump to make clear to President Duterte that he must end the extrajudicial executions, impunity for police abuses, and attacks on human rights defenders. The U.S. has considerable leverage over the Philippines, a longtime close ally. The U.S. is treaty-bound to defend the Philippines and is the Philippines’ third largest trading partner. The Philippines is the largest recipient of U.S. assistance in East Asia, which includes counterterrorism and counternarcotics support to the PNP.

A friend of Gener Rondina mourns in front of his casket during his wake, 7 December 2016, Cebu City. A witness said police shot the 38-year-old man during a raid on his house in November despite Gener kneeling on the floor, raising his arms and pleading “I will surrender!” © Amnesty International

President Trump should use the United States’ leverage and influence to help ensure that the Philippine authorities respect human rights and reorient their drug policies towards a model based on the protection of human rights, rather than a punitive approach that aims to kill the problem away.

First, President Duterte must halt the extrajudicial executions which take place virtually every night. The Philippines authorities must start to promptly and efficiently investigate any extrajudicial killings allegations and prosecute those responsible, including the PNP.

Second, the U.S. should carefully review and restrict the 32 million dollars in U.S. assistance that goes to the PNP. The U.S. must take measures to ensure that no U.S. assistance supports human rights violations, including those executed in the name of the “war on drugs.” The U.S. must make clear that any future security force assistance will be linked to clear progress in reforming the PNP and ending the impunity of police officers who commit or oversee unlawful killings.

Third, President Trump should support the efforts led by Philippines human rights defenders to document human rights abuses and to promote access to justice for victims and their families. The U.S. should denounce attacks on human rights defenders and should press the Philippines to release Senator Leila de Lima and to dismiss all other politically motivated charges against her.

These three actions are essential to end the extrajudicial killings and human rights abuses being committed in the guise of Duterte’s “war on drugs.” President Trump must make these demands loud and clear to President Duterte.

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