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Analysis

Rising death squad killings alarm UN

/ 12:25 AM August 09, 2016

CANBERRA―The United Nations has warned that it was “greatly concerned” with the rise in extrajudicial killings of suspected drug pushers and users in the Philippines.

In the strongest yet warning issued by the United Nations condemning President Duterte’s murderous campaign against drug lords in the country, the executive director of the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), Yury Fedotov, said that he shared UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s condemnation of the summary killings.

“I join the United Nations secretary general in condemning the apparent endorsement of extrajudicial killing, which is illegal and a breach of fundamental and a breach of rights and freedom,” Fedotov said. The rise of drug-related killings “contravenes the provisions of the international drug control conventions” and “do not serve the cause of justice,” he added.

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Fedotov also reminded Mr. Duterte that during a special meeting of the UN General Assembly on the drug problem, governments committed to “ensuring that all people can live in health, dignity and peace, with security and prosperity.”

He said his office would back the Philippines in bringing drug traffickers to justice but it should be grounded on international conventions and agreements.

People-centered evidence

Fedotov also voiced support for “balanced, people-centered evidence and rights-based approaches to drug control.”

He said, “UNODC stands ready to further engage with the Philippines and all countries in bringing drug traffickers to justice with the appropriate legal safeguards in line with international standards and norms and prevention, treatment, rehabilitation, reintegration approaches based on evidence, science, public health and human rights.”

The UNODC issued the statement after the International Drug Policy Consortium, a network of nongovernment organizations, asked UN drug control agencies to condemn the rise of drug-related killings in the Philippines.

According to the Philippine National Police, 316 drug suspects had been killed by police nationwide from July 1 to 27―or a daily average of 11 drug suspects killed daily.

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Inquirer.net, which keeps a list of casualties of Duterte’s war against drugs through its “Kill List,” has recorded 465 killings from June 30, the date when Mr. Duterte took office, to Aug. 1 (the bloodiest period of the Duterte administration).

This carnage took place in the wake of the UN condemnation of the rise of extrajudicial executions and the call of international organizations for a halt of the executions, indicating that the calls were falling on deaf ears. There is no sign that Mr. Duterte would respond to the calls.

In a speech on Thursday, the President acknowledged abuses in the war on drugs but is not backing down from a shoot-to-kill order for drug dealers.

He explained that most drug dealers and addicts slain in gun battles with police had put up a fight, but he was sure some were “salvaged”―a local term for extrajudicial killings usually by law enforcers.

No investigation yet

In the case of illegal killings, Duterte said the government would investigate. No such investigation has been conducted so far.

Instead, he said on Friday that he gave “shoot-to-kill” orders against drug dealers, including politicians involved in the illicit trade.

The order alarmed human rights activists who denounced it as “at least legally questionable,” as an attempt to whitewash law enforcement agents’ involvement in the killings, or to look for scapegoats in the witch-hunt for those responsible for the summary killings.

The President has remained unperturbed over these developments and evasive. He did not say whether the order applied to the Davao Death Squad, a vigilante group allegedly associated with Duterte’s campaign to wipe out criminals and the drugs traffic during his term as Davao City mayor for 23 years.

Protect human rights

The Duterte administration has come under increasing pressure from international institutions outraged by the rising death toll of the war on drugs and its impact on human rights and on the stability of the rule of law in Philippine democracy.

These concerns were raised by US Secretary of State John Kerry during meetings with Philippine officials last month. In his meetings with President Duterte and Foreign Secretary Perfecto Yasay, Kerry was reported to have mentioned the need to protect civil and human rights during talks on a wide range of issues.

Before meeting with the President, Kerry held a joint press conference with Yasay and spoke of the need to protect human rights even as authorities seek to uphold peace and order.

“I made very clear that civil and human rights need to be protected even as we try to keep our society safe,” Kerry said.

‘Broader agenda’

He said he reminded the Duterte administration of the importance of respecting human rights, calling it a part of the “broader agenda” of his Manila trip, where law enforcement and trade were discussed alongside the centerpiece issue of security and the unresolved maritime disputes in the South China Sea.

The visit took place amid Duterte’s stepped up war on crime and illegal drugs and the killing of hundreds of drug suspects, either through alleged shoot-outs with police or summary executions by motorcycle-driving masked men.

The President has vowed to wage a relentless campaign against illegal drugs, but he also warned human rights groups not to get in the way―a warning that has sent them fearing that they could be the next victims of rampage of the death squads, as the toll from body count mounts.

In its response, the government has created widespread public perception that it is above international rebuke on its apparent condonation of extrajudicial executions.

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TAGS: drugs, Duterte administration, nation, news, war on drugs
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