FIREBRAND president Rodrigo Duterte has been criticised for unleashing a “rights calamity” in the Philippines and for being part of a movement of rising populist politicians who have intensified the “flouting of human rights.”
The damning evaluation comes from the Human Rights Watch (HRW) in their World Report 2017 that was released Friday.
HRW Executive Director Kenneth Roth warns of the rise of populist leaders claiming to speak for “the people,” whilst seeking to overturn the concept of human rights protections. Roth fears that “when populists treat rights as an obstacle to their vision of the majority will, it is only a matter of time before they turn on those who disagree with their agenda.”
As has been seen in the Philippines when the senate ousted the chair of the Senate Committee on Justice and Human Rights, Senator Leila De Lima, in apparent reprisal for her inquiry into Duterte’s controversial “war on drugs”.
Since taking office in June 2016, Duterte has pursued a controversial and bloody campaign to wipe out drug crime. In the process, police and “unidentified gunmen” have killed several thousand people, HRW said.
Rather than holding those responsible for the killings to account, Duterte and his senior government officials have praised the deadly approach.
“In the name of wiping out ‘drug crime,’ President Duterte has steamrolled human rights protections and elevated unlawful killings of criminal suspects to a cornerstone of government policy,” Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW, said in a statement on Friday.
According to the HRW report, levels of extrajudicial killings by police have reached unprecedented levels since Duterte came to power last year.
From July to November 2016, according to statistics released by the Philippine National Police, police killed an estimated 1,959 suspected “drug pushers and users.” That death toll constitutes a nearly twenty-fold jump over the 68 such police killings recorded between January and June.
A further 3,658 killings have been attributed to unknown vigilantes between the months of July and November.
The figures are troubling in themselves, but it is Duterte’s insistence that the high death toll reflects the success of his campaign, his encouragement to police to “seize the momentum”, and his threats to declare martial law if the judiciary obstructs him, that also raised concerns with the rights watchdog.
The report also highlights rights infringements in other areas, namely attacks on indigenous people and the growing HIV epidemic.
In March 2016, police fired live ammunition into a crowd of some six thousand indigenous people gathered in protest in the city of Kidapawan, Mindanao. The group were calling for government food aid and other assistance. Two people were killed in the incident but, as yet, neither the senate nor the police have released the results of their respective investigations.
The Philippines is also recording one Asia’s fastest growing epidemics of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) in Asia. The significant increase is mostly seen in the demographic of men who have sex with men (MSM), in which prevalence has increased tenfold since 2010. HRW believes that the increase in incidence is due primarily to national, provincial, and local government policies that are hostile to evidence-based policies and interventions.
In the face of the growing problem, Duterte just this week implemented a presidential intervention to provide free contraceptives throughout the country in an attempt to tackle the issue. However, this is set to face challenges from conservatives and church leaders in the predominantly Catholic country.
With growing concerns over human rights in the country, the main focus of which is on the mounting extrajudicial killings, Kine stresses that “friends of the Philippines need to make clear that it can’t be business as usual until the killings stop and there are meaningful moves toward accountability.”