President Duterte has given law enforcement agents licence, with impunity, to kill hundreds of drug suspects in the Philippines. This clearly breaches human rights conventions, as well as the drug control principles adopted by member states at the UNGASS on drugs in April. The international community must stand up and give teeth to its own laws and conventions!
“The punisher.” This is the name the people of the Philippines have given to their new president, Rodrigo Duterte. Already, during the brief time he has so far been in power, hundreds of people have been massacred on the streets by policemen and vigilantes. The victims – alleged drug dealers and drug users – have not been formally arrested, charged, or sentenced. Their murderers were self-proclaimed judges and executioners. They were promised impunity for extrajudicial killings by the president himself. He is waging a war – the war on drugs. He has no compassion for the enemy in this war. When a picture of a weeping woman hugging the body of her slain husband went viral in the international media, he called it “melodramatic”.
What is even more horrific in this war, is that it has popular support. Before you judge the people of the Philippines too easily, try to consider how deeply the ethos of the vigilante “punisher” is embedded in the popular culture publicised by Hollywood movies. The idea that the rule of law is an inconvenient obstacle, and that people can only be protected from criminals if the criminals are defeated by heroes whose hands are not tied by laws, is as popular in the West as in the East. What happened in the Philippines, was that a self-proclaimed vigilante won the presidential elections. And when the president of a country sees himself as a vigilante, he himself becomes the greatest threat to his country – because the erosion of the rule of law always victimises the poorest and most vulnerable in society. People in the Philippines who think themselves to be protected against arbitrary violence because they have never used or sold drugs are as wrong as those Germans who thought they were protected from the Nazi terror because they were not Communists or Jews.
When governments came together at the UN General Assembly, in New York a few months ago, to adopt a consensus statement about drug policies, they concluded that any interventions must be in full conformity with “all human rights, fundamental freedoms, the inherent dignity of all individuals and the principles of equal rights”. They also emphasised the need to “ensure legal guarantees and safeguards of due process pertaining to criminal justice proceedings, including practical measures to uphold the prohibition of arbitrary arrest and detention, and of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, and to eliminate impunity”. The Philippines was among the member states which approved and signed this consensus statement.
Now, more than 300 NGOs (including ours) are urging international organisations, such as the International Narcotics Control Board and the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, to intervene and condemn the massacres. Acts which are deliberately committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, or an identifiable part of a population, are called crimes against humanity. The fact that the people being killed on the street are suspected of commiting a crime does not legitimise mass murder. This is not about legalisation vs prohibition, or about the different interpretations of drug control policies that divide the international community – this is simply about saving human lives. Those with a strong voice and power, please stop this madness!
Rights Reporter Foundation