Alberto. Cesar. Reynaldo. Felix. Marvin. Benjamin. Noel. Christopher. Unidentified Filipino male.
Yesterday, dozens of activists gathered in front of the Philippines Consulate in NY to protest the recent brutal murders of people suspected to be involved in drug use or selling in the Philippines, and listened in silence as a long list of names of those who have been killed was read out. The names represent individual lost lives, and they are only a fraction of those who have been killed to date in President Duterte’s bloody war.
Upon assuming presidency of the Philippines in May, Rodrigo Duterte made a public call for police and citizens alike to execute people who use or sell drugs, telling Filipinos to “feel free to call us, the police, or do it yourself if you have the gun," and pledged to protect the killers from prosecution. Recently, President Duterte compared himself to Hitler, vowing to kill millions of drug users. Since making these harrowing calls to action, over 3,600 people suspected to have been involved with drugs have been murdered. A further 700,000 people who use drugs have turned themselves in to authorities – undoubtedly out of fear for their lives – and who will now face time in overcrowded prisons and likely be subjected to inhumane and involuntary drug treatment programs.
The protest in NY was part of a Global Week of Action to Stop the Killings in the Philippines. This week, in events taking place in cities across the world, activists are gathering to express their grief and outrage, and are presenting a letter to their local Filipino embassies and consulates. The letter, written by the Asian Network of People who Use Drugs and the International Network of People who Use Drugs implores President Duterte “to immediately call for an end to the extrajudicial murder of people who use drugs and instead focus on internationally accepted, evidence-based interventions and policies that place the reduction of harm and the wellbeing of the community front and centre.”
In August, in response to a joint letter released by more than 300 international organizations calling on the United Nations drug control agencies to break their silence on the killings in the Philippines, the United Nations released a statement saying that the murders “constitute a serious breach of the legal obligations to which the Philippines is held by the three UN drug control conventions and by the corpus of international legal instruments to which the country has adhered.”
We are also urging the United States to condemn these unlawful executions and to cut off security assistance to the Duterte administration. The Leahy Vetting Process requires that the State Department withhold assistance to foreign security forces if recipients are found to have committed gross human rights abuses. It is unconscionable for the U.S. to provide assistance to the Duterte administration while the state-sanctioned killings of people involved with drugs continue.
The heinous and fatal targeting of people who use or sell drugs in the Philippines is unprecedented. If President Duterte ignores international demands to stop the massacres, it will be time for the International Criminal Court to open an examination into the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines as crimes against humanity.
Hannah Hetzer is Senior International Policy Manager at the Drug Policy Alliance.