Watchdog urges Asean to take stand vs Duterte’s drug war

INTERNATIONAL human rights watchdog Amnesty International (AI) on Wednesday called on Association of Southeast Asian Nation (Asean) leaders to raise their concerns over the war on illegal drugs waged by President Rodrigo Duterte in the Philippines.

Champa Patel, director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International, said head of Asean member-states should make a stand on Duterte’s “brutal” anti-drug crackdown that claimed the lives of thousands of individuals mostly belonging to marginalized sector.

“While they meet in their comfortable surroundings, Asean leaders should spare a thought for the thousands of people who have been killed as part of Duterte’s brutal crackdown. The vast majority are from marginalized and neglected communities, making it effectively a war on the poor,” Patel said.

Patel issued the statement as the Philippines serves as a chair of this year’s Asean Summit and Related Meetings. The Asean summit is a semi-annual meeting of the leaders of 10 member states to discuss issues of mutual interest.

The 30th Asean summit will be held in Manila on April 26 to 30 and all leaders of its member-states, except Myanmar President U Htin Kyaw, are expected to grace the event.

The President’s anti-narcotics campaign, which was launched since he assumed office in July 2016, earned criticisms from human rights advocates and the international community. Records from Human Rights Watch showed that over 7,000 have been killed in anti-narcotics operations.

Patel said Asean leaders should look into the mass killings of suspected drug personalities under Duterte’s watch, which could be considered as a “serious breach” of the Asean charter and “non-compliance” with charter’s pledge to human rights.

Article 20(4) of Asean Charter provides that Asean summit may, on such occasion, meet and take action.

Patel said the Philippines, as Asean chair, should address the "scandal” the drug war has brought and ensure that all those responsible for the drug killings will be held accountable.

“As the death toll mounts, so does evidence of the Philippines authorities’ role in the bloodshed. That the Philippines is chairing the Asean summit against this horrifying backdrop is a scandal, and should prompt the government to make independent and effective investigations into unlawful killings an immediate priority,” she said.

“The must send a clear message that there will be accountability and an end to such shocking violations,” Patel added.

The AI, in an open letter addressed to Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, urged the Philippine authorities to prioritize “prompt, impartial, and effective” investigation into all drug-related deaths.

It also encouraged Aguirre to press criminal charges against anyone involved in the drug killings, “regardless of their rank or status in the police or government.”

The letter was signed by the organization’s representatives in Asia Pacific, Europe and America.

Presidential spokesman Ernesto Abella said "the so-called extrajudicial killings are not state-sanction or state-sponsored." He said that police conducting legitimate operations are required to follow protocols and those who breach them are made to answer before the law.

Abella said that the Philippine Senate had conducted an independent investigation into the charges hurled against Duterte by a self-confessed assassin, and senators found no proof of state-sponsored killings.

On Monday, a Filipino lawyer presented documents to the International Criminal Court which he said contain evidence of Duterte's alleged involvement in extrajudicial killings. (SunStar Philippines)


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