WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas
9 Dec 2016 | WOLA Statement

Philippines’ President Duterte’s “Drug War” of Extrajudicial Killings Must be Condemned, Not Embraced

President-elect Trump Should Repudiate Duterte’s Claims of U.S. Support for His Murderous Drug Policy 

Washington, D.C.—Since taking office on June 30, Rodrigo Duterte, the president of the Philippines, has waged a draconian “war on drugs,” encouraging civilians and police to murder people who are believed to sell or use drugs. He has compared his campaign to the Holocaust, expressing a desire to “slaughter” millions, and has said he would pardon security forces who commit violations in the name of fighting drugs. Since July 1, according to the Philippine National Police, there have been more than 3,500 unsolved slayings.

President Duterte has characterized a December 2 phone conversation with U.S. President-elect Donald Trump as a signal of the incoming U.S. administration’s support for his policies. To date, Duterte’s assertions about that conversation have remained uncontested by Trump or his advisers. The danger exists that this silence may leave people to conclude that Trump does indeed support Duterte’s open exhortations to violence and the resulting slaughter that is being carried out in the Philippines today. It is therefore critical that the incoming U.S. administration publicly clarify that it does not support a campaign that blatantly violates fundamental human rights and is inflicting an agonizing toll of death and human suffering.

Duterte’s campaign of extrajudicial executions and promises of impunity for the perpetrators is a violation of the human rights obligations of all States under international law. As was underscored in a joint statementissued in August by the United Nations Special Rapporteurs on Summary Executions and on the Right to Health: “Claims to fight the illicit drug trade do not absolve the Government from its international legal obligations and do not shield State actors or others from responsibility for illegal killings. The State has a legally binding obligation to ensure the right to life and security of every person in the country, whether suspected of criminal offences or not.”

WOLA (the Washington Office on Latin America) has worked for over three decades in support of alternatives to the “war on drugs,” promoting policies that respect human dignity and also reduce the harms related to drugs. In the Americas, authorities have often used the banner of the “drug war” to justify death-squad style murders or to repress political opponents and vulnerable communities. This approach has created countless victims but has had little impact on the illegal drug trade or the corruption that comes with it.

As an organization that has documented the devastation of violent crackdowns in the name of drug control, WOLA urges President-elect Trump to publicly and explicitly repudiate Duterte’s claims and to disavow any support for his horrific policies. Not doing so would send a profoundly dangerous signal that the next U.S. administration is prepared to turn a blind eye to the most egregious human rights violations.