POLICE manufactured evidence to justify unlawful killings in a “war on drugs” that caused more than 7,000 deaths, the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) claimed in a new report.
HRW claimed President Rodrigo Duterte and other senior officials incited killings of mostly urban poor in a campaign that could amount to crimes against humanity.
The group also urged the United Nations (UN) to immediately form an independent, international investigation into the killings to determine responsibility, and ensure mechanisms for accountability.
“Our investigations into the Philippine ‘drug war’ found that police routinely kill drug suspects in cold blood and then cover up their crime by planting drugs and guns at the scene,” Peter Bouckaert, HRW emergencies director and also the author of the report, said. “President Duterte’s role in these killings makes him ultimately responsible for the deaths of thousands.”
The UN-linked International Narcotics Control Board on Thursday likewise condemned the use of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines in a separate report.
The board said “extrajudicial action, purportedly taken in pursuit of drug control objectives, is fundamentally contrary to the provisions and objectives” of international drug conventions.
In August the board, an independent quasi-judicial body monitoring the implementation of UN drugs conventions, called on the Philippine government to ensure an “immediate stop” to the killings.
The new annual report condemned the practice “in the strongest possible terms,” calling it a “serious violation of human rights” and an “affront to the most basic standards of human dignity.”
‘License to kill’
HRW’s 117-page report, titled “License to Kill: Philippine Police Killings in Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs,’” claimed masked gunmen appeared to have worked closely with the police, casting doubt on government claims that the majority of killings were committed by vigilantes or rival drug gangs.
In several instances, suspects in police custody were later found dead and classified by police as “found bodies” or “deaths under investigation.” No one has been meaningfully investigated, let alone prosecuted, for any of the “drug war” killings, HRW claimed.
The report drew heavily on interviews with 28 family members of victims and witnesses to police killings, as well as journalists and human rights activists, in Metro Manila.
The HRW documented 24 incidents that resulted in the deaths of 32 people. They typically occurred late at night either on the streets or inside informal shacks of urban slum areas.
Witnesses told HRW the armed assailants operated in small groups. They typically wore black civilian clothes and shielded their faces with balaclava-style headgear or other masks, and baseball caps or helmets.
The assailants would bang on doors and barge into rooms, but would not identify themselves or provide warrants. Family members reported hearing beatings and their loved ones begging for their lives. The shooting could happen immediately, behind closed doors or on the street; or the gunmen might take the suspect away, where minutes later, shots would ring out and local residents would find the body; or the body would be dumped elsewhere later, sometimes with hands tied or the head wrapped in plastic.
Local residents often said they saw uniformed police at the outskirts of such incidents, securing the perimeter, and even if not visible before a shooting, special crime scene investigators would arrive within minutes.
The HRW said Philippine authorities failed to seriously investigate drug war killings by either the police or “unidentified gunmen.” Although the Philippine National Police has classified a total of 922 killings as “cases where investigation has concluded,” there was no evidence that the probes resulted in the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators.