Human Rights Council should consider new accountability measures for the Philippines ‘war on drugs’: UN rights chief3 min read

By- Greeshma Joy

Since assuming office on June 30, 2016, the Philippine government under President Rodrigo Duterte has adopted a drug policy that is otherwise best known as “War on Drugs” or the “Philippine Drug War”. The aim of this policy is said to be the nationwide neutralization of illegal drug personalities. President Duterte has urged for the killing of drug addicts and criminals. Records indicate to deaths of over 12,000 Filipinos to date. Researches held by human rights groups and other socially concerned organizations show a large scale of unlawful and unjustified killings of the poor, by the Philippine National Police, using false and fabricated shreds of evidence. Reports say that the police are conducting regular raids of house and private property without producing any warrants and are also forcing the suspects to give self-incriminatory statements else face the risk of life. Observations reveal misuse of power by the government where it has started to file criminal charges against the people who come forward to criticize the government online with the use of COVID-19 special power laws. Documents show a shocking rate of deaths of several legal professionals, human rights activists, journalists, and trade unionists.

The Philippines drug war received a mixed response in the international arena.  Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, during his visit to the Philippines in 2017, assured support and offered assistance for drug rehabilitation centers but made no mention of killings. Gary Song-Huann Lin, the representative of Taiwan in the Philippines, welcomed the war plans. Indonesian National Police made a negative remark regarding the adoption of similar measures in Indonesia. The European Parliament expressed its concern over the extrajudicial killings.  The representatives and heads of other countries and organizations also gave various responses regarding the drug war.

The International Criminal Court, in 2018, announced that it intended to open a preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines and analyze crimes allegedly committed in the State. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has made a negative opinion on the anti-drug campaign. She has recently stated that there is a high necessity for the Human Rights Council to consider accountability measures in the Philippines’ drug war. Ms. Bachelet has urged the Council to have continuous monitoring and reporting on the matter. In her address to the Member States in Geneva on the opening day of the 44th session of the Human Rights Council, she has pointed out her concerns regarding the proposed new Anti-Terrorism Act 2020. The Act provides for a broader definition of the term “terrorism” and expands the detention period without a warrant from 3 to 14 days, which is extendable to another ten days. The OHCHR report records a non-exhaustive list of the death of 73 children in the campaign against illegal drugs where the youngest victim is five months old child. Ms. Bachelet points out that the operation is without due regard for the rule of law, due process, and the human rights of people who may be using or selling drugs.

The widespread and systematic extrajudicial killing operation is indeed a violation of human rights. The right to life of every person imposes a duty to the state to abstain from arbitrarily killing individuals under their jurisdiction. Deprivation of life is only possible if justified by the law (Refer Article 2(2) of ECHR). The state should provide sanctions for any or all crimes only after following proceedings with strict adherence to procedural safeguards of a fair trial.

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