HRW attacks Duterte’s bloody year 

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The Philippines’ president, Rodrigo Duterte, has unleashed a “human rights calamity” during his first year in office, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW). 

His so-called war on drugs, drug-related overcrowding of jails and the prosecution of government critics had “caused a steep decline in respect for basic rights” since his inauguration on June 30 last year, the NGO said.

Meanwhile, Moody’s Investors Service said it was keeping its BAA2 rating for the Philippines with a stable outlook and strong growth prospects on the back of robust consumption and remittances from expats.

“The Philippines’ real GDP growth averaged 6.4 per cent per year between 2014 and 2016, more than twice the corresponding median for BAA2-rated countries,” Moody’s said this week.

Manila’s economic growth contrasts with the political turmoil.

HRW said the government’s figures suggested the security forces and “unidentified gunmen” had killed at least 7,000 alleged drug users and dealers in a year, including 3,116 killings by the police.

“President Duterte took office promising to protect human rights, but has instead spent his first year in office as a boisterous instigator for an unlawful killing campaign,” said Phelim Kine, HRW’s deputy Asia director. “Duterte has supported and incited ‘drug war’ killings while retaliating against those fearless enough to challenge his assault on human rights.”

It said that interviews with witnesses and bereaved relatives and studies of police records exposed a pattern of unlawful police conduct designed to justify extrajudicial executions that might amount to crimes against humanity.

HRW said: “While the Philippine National Police have publicly sought to distinguish between suspects killed while resisting arrest and killings by ‘unknown gunmen’ or ‘vigilantes’, Human Rights Watch found no such distinction in the cases investigated. In several such cases, the police dismissed allegations of involvement when only hours before the suspects had been in police custody. Such cases call into question government assertions that the majority of killings were carried out by vigilantes or rival drug gangs.”

Prisoners are apparently suffering from inadequate food and unsanitary conditions. The prisons have an official capacity of 20,400 but are reportedly holding nearly 132,000 inmates, with most of them awaiting trial or sentencing. HRW said the drugs campaign had led to “secret jails” where the police detain suspects and demand bribes in exchange for release.

“During his first year in office, President Duterte and his government have demonstrated a fundamental unwillingness to respect rights or provide justice for people whose rights have been violated,” Kine said. “A UN-led international investigation is desperately needed to help stop the slaughter and press for accountability for Duterte’s human rights catastrophe.”

Manila’s poverty remains acute. Picture credit: Wikimedia