Re­spond­ing to Duterte’s reign of ter­ror

The Myanmar Times - - News - ARYEH NEIER news­room@mm­

SINCE Philip­pine Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte took of­fice in late June and de­clared a “war on drugs”, more than 1900 peo­ple have been killed – 756 by po­lice of­fi­cers and an­other 1160 by “vig­i­lantes”, ac­cord­ing to po­lice re­ports as of Au­gust 24. Mr Duterte is cel­e­brat­ing the killings and has vowed to con­tinue his anti-drug pro­gram so long as he re­mains pres­i­dent.

The Philip­pine law en­force­ment agen­cies prose­cut­ing the drug war have thrown out the rule­book and ig­nored fun­da­men­tal re­quire­ments such as col­lect­ing ev­i­dence, ad­her­ing to due process or even hold­ing tri­als. Philip­pine Po­lice Chief Ron­ald dela Rosa has even blamed the vic­tims for their own deaths, claim­ing that, “If they did not fight it out with the po­lice, they would be alive.”

This ex­pla­na­tion for the high body count de­fies be­lief. In sce­nar­ios where in­di­vid­u­als are shot while re­sist­ing ar­rest, the num­ber of peo­ple who are wounded should – as in mil­i­tary con­flicts – far ex­ceed the num­ber of peo­ple who are killed. If al­most every­one who is shot by po­lice or sol­diers dies, this sug­gests that the shoot­ers are ex­e­cut­ing peo­ple they al­ready have in cus­tody.

More­over, if cul­prits were fight­ing the po­lice, one would ex­pect to see a sharp rise in the num­ber of po­lice of­fi­cers who are wounded or killed. Yet the po­lice have not re­ported any in­crease in of­fi­cer ca­su­al­ties.

It is not sur­pris­ing that Mr Duterte is en­cour­ag­ing these killings. Pre­vi­ously, as the long-time mayor of Davao City, on the south­ern Philip­pine is­land of Min­danao, he car­ried out a sim­i­lar cam­paign of vig­i­lante in­cite­ment and made clear that he would con­tinue it na­tion­ally if elected pres­i­dent. That prom­ise seems to have con­trib­uted to his elec­toral suc­cess, point­ing to an un­for­tu­nate his­tor­i­cal trend in South­east Asian pol­i­tics.

In 1983, Suharto, who ruled In­done­sia with an iron fist from 1967 to 1998, presided over a se­ries of mys­te­ri­ous deaths, known as the Petrus Killings (for their In­done­sian acro­nym). Over the course of two years, an es­ti­mated 3000-10,000 al­leged petty crim­i­nals – many of them sup­pos­edly drug users – were ex­e­cuted without trial. (The rea­son for such a wide es­ti­mate is that In­done­sia’s cen­sors made re­port­ing on hu­man rights all but im­pos­si­ble at the time.)

More re­cently, in 2003, then-Prime Min­is­ter Thaksin Shi­nawa­tra of Thai­land con­ducted his own war on drugs. About 2800 peo­ple were ar­bi­trar­ily killed and a sub­se­quent of­fi­cial in­ves­ti­ga­tion found that more than half of them had no in­volve­ment with drugs.

Both Suharto and Thaksin were even­tu­ally over­thrown, but not be­cause they or­ches­trated the killings of sus­pected petty crim­i­nals and drug users. In fact, as with Mr Duterte, in­cit­ing mass mur­der ap­pears to have con­trib­uted to their pop­u­lar­ity, at least for a while. One ex­pla­na­tion for this com­mon­al­ity is that launch­ing a pub­lic cam­paign against a pow­er­less, un­pop­u­lar group like drug users is an easy way for a leader to mask other short­com­ings.

Mr Duterte is rid­ing high right now, but there are in­stru­ments avail­able to hold him ac­count­able, such as the In­ter­na­tional Crim­i­nal Court, to which the Philip­pines be­came a party in 2011. Un­der the 2002 Rome Statute, which es­tab­lished the ICC, the court has ju­ris­dic­tion to pros­e­cute all crimes that Philip­pine law en­force­ment agen­cies are “un­able” or “un­will­ing” to pur­sue them­selves. Un­less Philip­pine law en­force­ment of­fi­cials pre-empt the ICC by bring­ing a good-faith pros­e­cu­tion against Mr Duterte in Philip­pine courts, the ICC can take ac­tion.

The Rome Statute de­fines mur­der or per­se­cu­tion that is know­ingly “com­mit­ted as part of a wide­spread or sys­tem­atic at­tack against any civil­ian pop­u­la­tion” as a crime against hu­man­ity. The wide-scale ex­tra­ju­di­cial killings car­ried out un­der Mr Duterte’s drug-war ban­ner al­ready meet that def­i­ni­tion.

The Rome Statute also stip­u­lates that “of­fi­cial ca­pac­ity as a Head of State or Govern­ment ... shall in no case ex­empt a per­son from crim­i­nal re­spon­si­bil­ity un­der this Statute”. So, there is noth­ing stop­ping the pros­e­cu­tor of the ICC from launch­ing an in­ves­ti­ga­tion against Mr Duterte – and against po­lice of­fi­cials and vig­i­lante lead­ers who have col­lab­o­rated with him in con­duct­ing the killings. Do­ing so would send a mes­sage that the world is watch­ing and de­mand­ing jus­tice. If Mr Duterte and his co­terie sense they can act with im­punity, the killings will only es­ca­late.

One prom­i­nent Philip­pine po­lit­i­cal fig­ure, Leila de Lima, a se­na­tor and for­mer jus­tice min­is­ter, is al­ready call­ing on the ICC to take ac­tion. Every­one around the world who is com­mit­ted to due process and hu­man rights should take up her plea. The fact that a pop­u­lar head of state is tram­pling the rule of law in the Philip­pines makes a fast, de­ci­sive re­sponse all the more nec­es­sary.

– Project Syn­di­cate

Aryeh Neier, pres­i­dent emer­i­tus of the Open So­ci­ety Foun­da­tions and a founder of Hu­man Rights Watch, is au­thor of

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