Death penalty will set PH in wrong direction, says AI
CANBERRA—Since President Duterte took office on June 30, this country has seen so many people killed by vigilante death squads. The “kill list” tallied from that time by the Philippine National Police presents an appalling death toll of 465 extrajudicial executions.
The President has acknowledged abuses in the war on drugs, but is not backing down from a shoot-to-kill order against drug dealers. He has also ordered the reinstatement of the death penalty as a deterrent to crime, which he has pledged to eradicate in the first three to six months of his presidency.
Mr. Duterte has explained these draconian measures that have given the Philippines the international reputation of being Asia’s latest killing field, reminiscent of the genocidal slaughter of up to half a million Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge when they occupied Phnom Penh in 1975.
He has justified these massacres, saying that most drug dealers and addicts slain in gun battles had put up a fight, but he was sure some were “salvaged”—a local term for extrajudicial killings by law enforcers. The excuse has 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 executions.
Mr. Duterte has been battling with international organizations condemning his controversial crime war that has claimed 1,000 lives. He hit out on Wednesday at “stupid” UN criticism, warning it not to interfere in Philippine domestic affairs. “Why should the United Nations be so easily swayed in the affairs of this republic? There were only 1,000 killed,” he said.
“What’s the problem? You inject politics. Only 1,000 died, and you put my country in peril, in jeopardy?” he said. He should have been asked: Why are you not bothered by the killings of Filipinos on the basis of nothing more than suspicion of having committed crimes. He told foreign human rights watchdogs “not to investigate us as though we are criminals” and warned they would not be treated well in the Philippines.
Amnesty International (AI) has told Mr. Duterte he must fulfill his inauguration pledge to uphold the country’s commitment to international law and lead a break with the country’s “poor human rights record.”
Lend substance to words
“President Duterte was elected on a mandate to uphold the rule of law,” the London-based AI said. “Ït is encouraging that he spoke of honoring the Philippines’ obligations under international law in his inauguration speech. But now that he is in power, he needs to lend substance to those words and break with his earlier rhetoric. Throughout his campaign, the President made inflammatory remarks that, if translated to policy, would mark a sharp deterioration in the already problematic human rights situation in the Philippines. President Duterte’s promises to adhere to the rule of law must be translated into actual policy and implemented in practice,” AI said.
Since winning the election, AI noted, Mr. Duterte has “triggered widespread alarm” by calling for the restoration of the death penalty, vowing to preside over a wave of extrajudicial executions, threatening journalists and intimidating human rights defenders.
“This is a context where a climate of impunity for human rights violations prevails in the Philippines, including for torture and ill treatment. Only one police officer has ever been brought to justice under laws criminalizing torture, and few have been held accountable for killing journalists…
“Among President Duterte’s many troubling positions is his intention to restore the death penalty. Doing so would reverse a decade-long ban in the Philippines of this cruel and irreversible punishment. For this [position] the Philippines is a regional leader, as it went against the grain of other countries in the region.
“President Duterte has said that he intends to apply the death penalty to a range of crimes including offenses that do not meet the threshold of ‘most serious crimes,’ which is the only category of crimes for which international law allows the death penalty.
“There is no evidence that the death penalty serves as any more of a deterrent than prison. At a time when this cruel and inhuman and degrading punishment has been abolished in the majority of the world’s countries, reimposing it will set [the Philippines] in the wrong direction.”
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