GENEVA • Tens of thousands of people in the Philippines may have been killed in the war on drugs since mid-2016 amid “near impunity” for police and incitement to violence by top officials, the United Nations said yesterday.
The drugs crackdown, launched by President Rodrigo Duterte after winning election on a platform of crushing crime, has been marked by police orders and high-level rhetoric that may have been interpreted as “permission to kill”, it said.
Police who do not need search or arrest warrants for house raids systematically force suspects to make self-incriminating statements or risk facing lethal force, the UN human rights office said in a report.
There has been only one conviction, for the 2017 murder of Kian delos Santos, a 17-year-old Manila student, it said. Three police officers were convicted after CCTV footage led to public outrage, it said.
“Despite credible allegations of widespread and systematic extrajudicial killings in the context of the campaign against illegal drugs, there has been near impunity for such violations,” the report said.
Police say their actions in the anti-drug campaign have been lawful and that deaths occur in shootouts with dealers resisting arrest.
The report said that some statements from the highest levels of government had “risen to the level of incitement to violence” and “vilification of dissent is being increasingly institutionalised”.
“The human rights situation in the Philippines is marked by an overarching focus on public order and national security, including countering terrorism and illegal drugs,” it said. But this was “often at the expense of human rights, due process rights, the rule of law and accountability”. The report also said “the government has also increasingly filed criminal charges, including by using Covid-19 special powers laws, against social media users posting content critical of government policies and actions”.
It will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council later this month.
Lawyers and activists raised the alarm this week over a new anti-terrorism Bill pushed by Mr Duterte, warning of draconian and arbitrary provisions that could be abused to target his detractors. Most victims in the drug war are young poor urban males, the UN report said. “The most conservative figure, based on government data, suggests that since July 2016, 8,663 people have been killed – with other estimates of up to triple that number,” it said.
At least 248 land and environmental rights activists, lawyers, journalists and trade unionists were killed from 2015 to 2019, it also said.