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HRW: Drug war killings continue in pandemic-hit Philippines

The raging coronavirus pandemic did not stop President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent anti-drug operations as the number of related killings rose over the past months, Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Wednesday, September 9. 

“As the government’s own statistics show, the atrocities in the drug war have worsened, even as the country suffers the worst in the region from the pandemic,” HRW Asia researcher Carlos Conde wrote in a dispatch.

Numbers from the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA), posted on the government’s #RealNumbersPH page, showed that 155 people were killed during anti-drug operations from March 31 to July 31, 2020. 

This means that as of July 31, at least 5,810 suspected drug personalities were killed during operations since the Duterte’s bloody drug war began in mid-2016. 

Time for UN action

The number does not reflect the thousands killed by still unidentified suspects. If included, human rights groups estimate the number to reach more than 27,000. (READ: The Impunity Series)

In June, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Duterte's drug war was being carried out "without due regard for the rule of law, due process, and human rights."

"The Human Rights Council should once again tackle the issue of rights abuses in the Philippines when it convenes this month," Conde said.

"The government is expected to continue to deny the allegations rather than offer a constructive response," he added.

The Duterte government already created an inter-agency panel that is expected to reinvestigate the deaths in police operations, a move Conde said was just a "propaganda to appease [UN HRC], to prevent it from taking action."

The International Criminal Court's Office of the Prosecutor, meanwhile, is expected to decide soon whether or not to open a formal investigation into the Philippine situation.

Violations under lockdown

The drug war killings existed alongside incidents of abuse and brutality reported over the past 5 months, stemming from the strict implementation of quarantine rules.

In the first two months of the lockdown, the Commission on Human Rights received 368 complaints and requests for assistance. (READ: Policing a pandemic: Philippines still stuck with drug war blueprint)

Police have arrested a total of 100,486 alleged quarantine violators across the Philippines as of September 6.

Out of this number, 1,735 are still detained in police stations. (READ: PNP begins to arrest lockdown violators without warning) – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.

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