PRESIDENT Rodrigo R. Duterte’s “murderous war on drugs” remained the Philippines’ gravest human rights concern in 2019, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a report released on Wednesday.
“President Duterte’s anti-drug campaign remains as brutal as when it started, with drug suspects being killed regularly across the country,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in an emailed statement. “Four years into the drug war, the need for international mechanisms to provide accountability is as great as ever.”
The global watchdog also implicated Philippine security forces for often deadly attacks on activists in its 652-page World Report 2020, which reviewed human rights practices in almost 100 countries.
Mr. Duterte’s appointment in November of Vice President and opposition leader Maria Leonor G. Robredo as his anti-drug czar raised hopes that drug campaign violence would be tempered, Human Rights Watch said. But Mr. Duterte fired her weeks later because he said he didn’t trust her.
In July, the Philippine National Police said its forces had killed more than 5,500 people during drug raids. Local rights groups as well as the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights contend that the number could be more than 27,000.
Except for three police officers involved in a highly publicized killing in August 2017, no one has been convicted in any “drug war” killings, Human Rights Watch said.
Mr. Duterte continued to defend the drug war and promised to protect law enforcement officers who killed drug suspects in these raids, it said.
In December, the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency said its forces had killed 5,552 people during drug raids from July 1, 2016 to Nov. 30, 2019.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) has yet to conclude its preliminary probe of the government’s anti-illegal drug campaign, which began in February 2018.
A UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) resolution on the Philippines adopted in July 2019 ordered the UN human rights office to issue a report by June.
Human Rights Watch said there was an upsurge in 2019 in often deadly attacks against left-wing activists, including peasant leaders, environmentalists, tribal leaders, and religious figures who were deemed to be linked to the communist New People’s Army.
“Violence was particularly high on the island of Negros, where alleged state security forces killed peasants, their leaders, environmentalists, religious leaders and their community supporters,” the watchdog said.
Left-wing and politically active groups faced police raids that resulted in arbitrary arrests and detention, it said. Groups alleged that police planted weapons and other “evidence” to justify the raids and arrests.
“The government and military frequently labeled these groups and individuals as communist rebels or sympathizers, a practice commonly known as ‘red tagging.’ Some journalists also faced similar political attacks,” it said.
“As with the anti-drug campaign, the Duterte administration has done little to investigate and prosecute those responsible for politically motivated attacks against activists,” the global watchdog said.
Mr. Duterte has instead “seemingly encouraged such attacks, for instance, in August calling on the military to implement a more severe measure against the insurgency.”
“There are sadly no signs that President Duterte is going to end drug war killings or act to stop attacks on activists,” Mr. Robertson said.
“That makes it all the more important for international institutions like the International Criminal Court and the UN Human Rights Council to do what they can to hold Duterte and other senior officials to account for their abuses.”
Also on Wednesday, the presidential palace said the International Criminal Court has no jurisdiction over the President, after a lawyer withdrew his case from the court against M. Duterte’s war on drugs.
The ICC “needs to wake up from its stupor if not ignorance” for accepting communications from people who file complaints against the President even after the Philippines withdrew from the tribunal in March, presidential spokesman Salvador S. Panelo said in a statement. — NPA and GMC