Side Event: Open Wound: Extrajudicial Drug War Killings in 2022

Organized by the DRCNet Foundation with the support of the Asian Human Rights Commission, the Associazione Luca Coscioni and the Forum Droghe

Opening remarks

Marco Perduca (Associazone Luca Coscioni & former Senator, Italy): This is a panel that follows up similar events that the DRCNet has been organizing for the last six years to try and raise the issue of systematic, widespread and very violent human rights violation committed by UN member states for the sake of the so called war on drugs, or as the diplomat call it, the international system of drug control. After the second UN special session on drugs held in New York in 2016, several UN bodies have highlighted the risk of justifying human rights violations for the sake of controlling narcotics, be that trafficking or also personal use – and some countries have started to react others haven’t. And I’m afraid that some of the speakers that we will hear today are residing in countries where the message hasn’t been gotten in a clear way. At the same time I think we should commend the work of several UN Working Group that I have highlighted what is being done around the world and hope that member states will take into consideration some of the recommendations, also published last year.

David Borden (Executive Director, StoptheDrugWar.org (US)): This is one of a series of around 10 events we’ve done on this topic, and the fifth at the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. The first in 2017 featured a video from Vice President Leni Robredo, which strongly criticized President Duterte’s drug policies and became a a political incident in the Philippines for catalyzing the ultimately unsuccessful attempts to impeach the vice president. We were also joined in person by the great Chito Gascon who was chair of the commission on human rights. I will just say that I think everyone should know the events in Ukraine right now. And they certainly emphasize the importance of rule of law. And the topic we’re discussing today is part of rule of law.

Panel

Karen Gomez-Dumpit (Member, Commission on Human Rights of the Philippines): I follow many speakers, as you said the Vice President and also our very much missed chairperson Chito Gascon. So allow me to just give you some broad strokes of how we view the human rights situation but of course concentrating on the theme that we have today, this very graphic representation of what we are experiencing – an open wound of extrajudicial killings brought about by the war on drugs. Just allow me to refresh your memories because I want to be able to quote the High Commissioner when she rendered her report, presented it before the Human Rights Council in 2020 on the human rights situation in the Philippines, and she did say that key patterns of ongoing violations have been highlighted, and while gains have been made, challenges remain. But the overarching focus on national security, counterterrorism, and illegal drugs, systematic human rights violations, killings, arbitrary detention, persistent impunity, vilification of dissent is really the hallmark of the current situation that we are in. The High Commissioner understood that there is the over arching focus on public order national security, to counter illegal drugs and the underpinning focus on national security threats. Which were described as real and inflated, have really led to serious human rights violations and have to this day been largely unattended or unaddressed. So it is also reinforced by harmful rhetoric from high level officials. Which has not stopped to this day. Even yesterday, we hear the President saying the reason why these people were killed was because of drugs. So just to be able to say that, of course, there could have been something that other branches of government could have done. We can understand if the legislature would be composed of the super majority in support of this president who still enjoys a very, very high popularity rating and support rating. But then, when we take a look at the questions and the petitions that were brought before the Supreme Court, it also tells us that the reason why we are in this situation and why it has escalated to this level is the cause of the lack of check and balance. And this brings us to the petitions in the Supreme Court questioning the legitimacy of the war on drugs, which are still pending. There are three petitions and a timeline of this is as early as January 2016. The first petition which is called the meridian petition, questioning the issuance of command memorandum orders, which actually gave effect or plan to account for the war on drugs for the campaign against illegal drugs in the government. There was also in October another case filed this was the banner petition. And of course on the 11th of October, the free legal assistance group also filed a petition on the Almora petition [for the issuance of a writ of apparel and protective read with a prohibition] but since the first petition, it has been 1877 days that has passed that’s a little over five years spending today. The first tussle was actually to allow the petitioners access to the information on all the big themes on the on the list of victims of the drug war, but there was force a tug of war here, because there was an initial refusal of government to provide information because of national security. But then the Supreme Court did order that, but when government actually complied with it, the files were corrupted. So until now, there is a petition pending in the Supreme Court to ask an order from the court to order the solicitor general to comply and provide proper copies, readable copies of this. Of course, we all heard of the high level panel review that was presented before the Human Rights Council by the Department of Justice, and the Secretary of justice no less said that. we will be involved in this process. But today, we have been very minimally involved in it. Aside from the fact that there were pronouncements that of course, this is considered as a movement in the right direction. At first 50 cases were reviewed. They found that  there were violations that were committed and of course, another 250 are recent, recent pronouncement by our Secretary of Justice has done that. But again, there is lack of transparency in this process, despite the fact that there was a promise and a commitment that the Commission on Human Rights will be involved. Many observers and maybe even media personnel were asking about how the killings have slowed down. Yes, they have maybe because of the pandemic but it has not stopped. should not be taken as a trending thing. What we need to do is accountability for all the killings that have happened. And based on our records there are more than 3000 that we have tried to investigate, but there was lack of cooperation or non cooperation from authorities and only 14 pieces of the 1000s today have reached the courts. There is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel, if you will, because, of course as we know that the Human Rights Council has issued a resolution on technical cooperation for the Philippines to help the Philippines and this is in the form of a UN joint program that will address the human rights situation. There is hope in this because one of the areas where we need to converge and to support is the platform on human rights based approach to drugs control. We have launched this in July last year and it’s a three year program we have yet to see concrete steps towards this program being implemented in the Philippines. But just to say that it is an important opening that we have. Last but not the least, of course death penalty is still on the table. In fact, several months ago, there was an attempt to include again the death penalty in the amendments to the dangerous drugs. And of course we have tried to block this. We are happy to report that perhaps because of elections but for whatever reasons, authors of the death penalty bill in the Senate have said the time is not now or have withdrawn their bills so we can have a breath. We can take a breath and say that the death penalty is not on the table right now. And hopefully all throughout the rest of this Congress. 

Mohammad Ashrafuzzaman (Programme Coordinator, Asian Human Rights Commission): In Bangladesh, we are seeing the replication of the Duterte style War on Drugs by Sheikh Hasina. So the only difference is Philippines is in the East Asia, and Bangladesh is in South Asia. And Tata is a man and President and Sheikh Hasina is a woman and the Prime Minister of the Government. So apart from these difference, the nature of the killings, the excuses, these are all almost the same. The killing was officially launched qith the title of war on drugs in early May 2018, and that is the election year. In December, the country was scheduled to have its national parliamentary election, and the government was in office. In two since 2014. Without any credible election, it’s basically uncontested while all opposition parties, centrist, leftists, the right, everybody boycotted that election. So the ruling party and its allies all elected most of them I mean, more than half of them were elected unopposed without a vote being cast. So we need to understand this context that an authoritarian government wanted to renew its power, and it renewed illegally without legitimacy and people’s mandate and the same regime, again wanted to renew its power and it needed an excuse to eliminate some of that dissidents and the political opponents and the war on drugs was a very effective tool from their perspective. I’m not going into the statistics, several hundreds have been killed. By all forces it involves rapid action battalion it involves Bangladesh border guards, and then it also involves the regular police force and different units of the police. Also the military, so all the security apparatus of the country are involved directly in this process of war on drugs. So in this context, the victims are, of course opposition political members, whoever is suspected dissidents. And very importantly, the Rohingya refugees. we don’t know whether they were really involved in the in the drug peddling. But what we know is that the biggest the most well known drug lot is related to the Prime Minister, I mean, closely associated. Killing any person with any excuse is a gross violation of human rights. It’s arbitrary deprivation of life. And this is not acceptable in any way, in the civilized human world. And that’s why as human rights activists we any kind of arbitrary prohibition, we are against that we don’t want that. And then we talk about the possibility of redress. So there is zero possibility of redress why I’m saying that you cannot show one example that makes judiciary killing the real victims or their families have ever got justice. In Bangladesh, no instance. Not a single instance of the 1000s of killing that has happened under the the government, the incumbent government, there has not been any single instance of prosecution then you have the rewarding of these perpetrators. perpetrators are rewarded with gallantry, medals, like Presidential Medal, police medal. So now,for the human rights groups and the big teams the only options left is approaching to the UN Human Rights mechanism or other jurisdictional mechanism if there is any, like International Criminal Court ICC. We know ICC is a very time consuming process and they want to get their Rohingya cases done with the assistance of Bangladesh government, and that’s why they don’t want to disturb the Bangladesh Government.

 

Cristiano Avila Maronna (Board Member of Justa Project):

 

Zaved Mahmood, Human Rights and Drug Policy Advisor, UN OHCHR:

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