US State Department slams extrajudicial killings and police impunity

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Alleged extrajudicial killings and police impunity remain the most significant human rights concerns in the Philippines, the US State Department has said.

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Even though the 2017 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices praises some efforts by the Philippine government, it nonetheless highlights numerous failings in the country.

“Extrajudicial killings have been the chief human rights concern in the country for many years and, after a sharp rise with the onset of the anti-drug campaign in 2016, they continued in 2017,” the report released in Washington yesterday (Friday, April 20) said.

“The government investigated a limited number of reported human rights abuses, including abuses by its own forces, paramilitaries, and insurgent and terrorist groups. Concerns about police impunity increased significantly following the sharp increase in police killings.” 

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Although police claimed to have begun investigations of all reports of extrajudicial killings, no criminal complaints have been filed by against officers accused of unlawful killings.

From January to the end of September 2017, more than 900 fatalities suspected to be connected with the anti-drug crackdown were reported.

According to police, 1,889 cases were resolved as of August, but 4,373 remain under investigation, the State Department said.

Other “most significant” human rights issues included: killings by vigilantes and insurgents; abuse of prisoners and detainees by security forces; life-threatening prison conditions; warrantless arrests; political prisoners; killings of and threats against journalists; official corruption; threats of violence against human rights activists; violence against women and forced labour.

It also highlighted the president’s tendency to single out reporters who ask tough questions, saying it has “a chilling effect on their willingness to engage, in large part because of a feared loss of access”.

Some journalists, the report said, reported an increase in online threats in response to articles critical of the government.

The report also cited public criticisms and disparaging remarks by the president and his allies against the Philippine Commission on Human Rights.

“After his State of the Nation address, President Duterte threatened to abolish the CHR. This, however, would require amending the Constitution. In August, the House of Representatives voted to cut the CHR’s budget to 1,000 pesos ($20) from 650 million pesos ($13 million). The Senate version, however, set CHR’s budget at 650 million pesos,” it said.

The State Department also pointed to the president’s frequent criticism of the UN, international human rights groups and UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions Agnes Callamard, who has been refused a chance to visit to investigate killings.

The report also noted that Moro separatist and communist insurgencies continued to result in the displacement of civilians and the deaths of soldiers and police.

Terrorist organisations, on the other hand, continued to engage in kidnappings for ransom, bombings of civilian targets, beheadings and the use of child soldiers.

The State Department is mandated by US Congress each year to provide a detailed report on the status of human rights in more than 100 countries to help the US government assess its policy and foreign assistance.

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