As Philippines President Duterte's war on drugs rages on, Amnesty International is calling for a UN investigation. At least 6,000 people have been killed by police, and rights groups think the number is much higher.
Amnesty International on Monday urged the United Nations to investigate potential "crimes against humanity" that occurred in the Philippines during President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody anti-drug crackdown.
In its report "They Just Kill," the London-based rights watchdog urged the UN Human Rights Council to approve a resolution calling for an investigation into the Philippines, where there was now a "perilous normalization" of illegal executions and police abuses.
A vote on the resolution by the 47-member council is expected later this week.
The exact number of deaths in President Duterte's violent war on drugs cannot be verified, but at least 6,000 have died since he launched the campaign upon taking office in mid-2016, in operations in which police said suspects were armed and fought back.
Non-government groups claim a much higher death toll, including many suspects killed by motorcycle-riding gunmen who human rights groups suspect were financed by police officers. Human Rights Watch says more than 12,000 have died.
The 'bloodiest killing field'
Amnesty said Bulacan province north of the capital has become "the country's bloodiest killing field" after some officers involved in the crackdown were transferred there from Manila, which used to be the "epicenter of killings."
"Within marginalized communities, police continue to kill with total impunity, fueling a pervasive climate of fear in cities, towns and neighborhoods," Amnesty said in its study. "The reliance on violent and repressive policies continues to perpetuate human rights violations and abuses in the country."
Amnesty said it investigated 20 drug-related incidents in which 27 people were killed across Bulacan from May 2018 to April of this year, by interviewing witnesses, families of the dead, local officials and rights activists.
Amnesty concluded half of the incidents "appear to have been extrajudicial executions" based on witnesses' accounts and other information.
The others were unclear due to difficulty obtaining information about the killings "although their broad outlines were consistent with patterns of previous extrajudicial executions."
Human Rights Watch Philippines researcher Carlos Conde told DW that while the immediate victims are obviously those who have ended up dead or been harmed in the campaign, the impact extends to the families and children of the victims.
"Keep in mind that the majority of the victims in this drug war are the poorest of the poor," Conde said. "So every time the police kill a breadwinner that's going to have a rippling effect on the family of the victim."
Conde said there is "no specific program to deal with the trauma, the economic hardship, that follows after each killing."
Poor labeled 'big-time' drug dealers
Amnesty wrote that families of the deceased said the victims had struggled to earn a living but were accused of being "big-time" drug dealers.
Police officers justified the deaths by claiming that suspects fought back during so-called "buy-bust" operations, where undercover agents posed as drug buyers. Amnesty said it doubted the police reports, saying they did not "meet the feeblest standards of credibility."
Amnesty also questioned the legitimacy and accuracy of drug "watch lists," which it said contain the names of drug suspects targeted in police raids.
Amnesty cited accounts from suspects' relatives and witnesses that contradicted police accounts. Some reported that suspects who police claimed fired back were too poor to buy guns, while other suspects had died after police forcibly broke into homes and opened fire, with authorities later claiming the suspects fought back after sensing they were being entrapped in police "buy-bust" transactions.
Killings may worsen
Conde told DW that Duterte's popularity appears to come from the fact that, since the time of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 70s, the Philippines has "long had these many intractable problems that have not been fixed by succeeding administrations."
"When Duterte came along, he held himself up as the solution to many of these problems and even told Filipinos that, as the solution to this problem, I'm willing to do what is necessary," among them violence and killing all of these people, Conde added.
"In fact, during his campaign he said 'if you don't like blood to flow, don’t elect me,' and so people interpreted that as political will and finally they [had] this leader that they thought would change the country," Conde said.
Conde said Human Rights Watch believes the killings are going to get worse as the killings have become political tools used to keep up Duterte's popularity. "He himself has said the drug problem has worsened, sort of predicating his statement that in fact it will [worsen]."
law/rc (AP, Reuters, dpa)