Home » Side Event. Fractures: Rule of law challenges in the global drug war

Side Event. Fractures: Rule of law challenges in the global drug war

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


David Borden (moderator) Founder and director of stop the drug war foundation .org: Thank you for joining in person or online at the 66 sessions of the CND. That’s for the cosponsoring NGOs. Special thanks to the Philippino community here in Vienna. This is 15th of several forums we have held in the UN and international meetings. In whole or in part deal with extrajudicial killing in the Philippines drug war, as they began with former president Rodrigo Duterte. First event took place 6 years ago here at the CND. Few weeks prior senator Lila de lima was jailed in Philippines because she exposed damaging information of Duterte. The now former senator still in prison besides there is no conviction against her, and witnesses stated they provided false information form pressure from the government. 

Acording to NGO extrajudicial killings estimates in the order of the 30000 under the Duterte drug war. But according to government estimates is around 6000 or 7000. The people that denounce killing face retaliation. One of the persons that has suffered this is a speaker in this panel: Father Albert Alejo and human right campaigner form the Philippines, at the pontifical university in Rome 

Father Albert Alejo – Faculty Pontifical Gregorian University: Thank you for inviting me. These is about fracture. I have several previous notes: I acknowledge that the new national administration of the Philippine Government promises to be different from the massive human rights violations inflicted by the previous administration. I am also appreciating the reorientation of the Government approach to substance abuse, which includes community based and health-oriented programs that also integrates the participation of civil society. But killings continue. And promises for reform must no be used a alibi for not exacting accountability and justice for past and present surplus of brutality all in the name of the war on drugs.   We cannot forget the past. I believe, international solidarity and pressure can help in the local struggle for justice and sanity in the Philippines. I pick up from the Vienna declaration of 1993: “Human rights and fundamental freedoms are the birthright of all human beings; their protection and promotion is the first responsibility of governments.” The UN aim at building a world where all governments of different nations protect their own people as well as the rest of the humanity, following the principle of the universality of human rights and human dignity. But all this is fractured, broken into pieces, when in the name of fighting drug syndicates, we end up killing their victims and jailing their defenders. And sadly, that is the case of the Philippines. Killings fractures society, The principle of respect for the universal human rights and human dignity is mocked when in somewhere in the world in the name of the War on Drugs, an average of the thousand persons are killed in the first seven months of a newly elected president, followed by more brutal killings thereafter, leaving around 30000 families grieving over their lost loved ones. That is the case of the Philippines now under investigation of the International Criminal Court. So, the first seven months documented an average of 1000 killing a months. Inhospitality to ICC against international cooperation. The UN goal of international cooperation in the sacred mission of protecting HR and human dignity is denied when a country that signed the Rome Statute that created the ICC closes its door to the ICC investigators. But that is the current position of the Philippine Government based on the statement that recently came out of the Congress and the Executive Department. When you deny investigation, you are hiding something. Attack on the truth and truth tellers. The UN affirmation of the universality of human rights and fundamental freedom is based on the truth, Truth is not served by lies, by the malicious use of information technology and the social media in order to confuse the minds od the local people as well hide a country´s crime from the attention of other nations. But this is precisely the continuing struggle of people like Marisa Ressa, a Nobel Laureate against all kinds of deceptions that serve only the dictator. Continued imprisonment of Senator De Lima int the name of war on drugs. The goal of the UN is not served when the name of the War on Drugs, a duly elected senator is put in prison (for more than six years without evidence) using convicted drug lords as witnesses, and with a series of judges inhibiting themselves. And that is the case of Senator Leila De Lima, whose only crime was to investigate the extra judicial killings under president Duterte all in the name of the Wat on drugs.  This is symbol if what is still wrong.  Our call: DOCUMENTATION: Support the struggle of those who attend the victims of brutality in the name of the war on drugs- Help those who produce good documentation for legal and humanitarian purposes, and project the voices of the victims in local and global platforms; Welcome ICC INVESTIGATION. Add more international pressure to the Philippine Government to welcome the ICC investigation process to continue and allow the ICC investigators to enter the Philippine territory. If there is nothing to hide, there is no reason to fear. In addition. Let the ICC be supported in its mission by providing more truthful facts and revelations, and their logistical needs to carry out this task; Free senator Leila De Lima. Intensify the international call to free Senator De Lima. The most vivid symbol of what is intrinsically wrong in the Philippine war on drugs. We need more international leaders and influencers to keep trying to visit the senator in jail. Journalists to write more on her mission and competence. The witnesses have retracted saying that they pressured by the government, and they didn’t even know Senator Leila De Lima. No evidence: Non existence evidence of drugs. Lies used by testimonies. Innocence of LML proven. Money trails reveals no links to LML. Attempts to silence critics. Civil society as embarrassed prophets, including religious groups, needs to generate strategy and stamina to speak out prophetically, and call for accountability, even if the process boomerangs on our own vulnerability and culpability in the overall culture of impunity. Listen to the victims and authentic witnesses. A call on fellow Filipinos everywhere to please show our love of our country by trying to get the real story. Listen to defender of human dignity, to authentic whistleblowers, to the voices of the victims. Listen to the pain, don’t hide the pain.  

 MD: Mohamed Asharafuzzaman – Programme coordinator, Asian Human Rights Commission: Thanks to stipthedrugwar.org for hosting. The overall of what I´m going to talk about is a serios concern about drugs, that is destroying societies all around the word. Many root causes that are not being faced in the countries. The institutional issues that are involved in int. If you look at Bangladesh it is the member of the CND. They may be saying amazing thing about our country, that would not always sound the same of what I will talk about, that is based on the victims and human rights activists in the country. I´m on exile, I cannot go into the country over a decade. I have a lot of ayes and ears on the ground. Bangladesh has death penalty for drugs. There is a drug called yaba. That is a combination of methamphetamine and caffeine. Is a red tablet. There are other drugs, but this are on top of the country. The government amended a law in 2018 that added death penalty of 5 grams if anyone produces, possesses or smuggles. This drug comes mainly from Myanmar, so not many people know who is trading it. The personas on Bangladesh that is the king pin of drug smuggle is a member of the ruling party. In 2018 election he was not eligible to candidate, so the ruling party picked up his wife to be a senator. He is in charge of the collaboration with police to smuggle the drug into the country. He has the entire drug chain under control. When in one hand you have a government that makes a law that kill people through the judicial system, there is also extrajudicial killings for drugs. Hundreds of people have been extrajudicial killing for carrying of trafficking drugs. Including the Rohynga refugees, pushed by the police and the ruling party.  These people and others are used in the trade. There is more armed forces in these area in the border with Myanmar, high military presence. So how the drug comes across the border and gets everywhere in the country. It needs the collaboration of law enforcement forces. The number of extrajudicial killings has been a little less than before. Mainly because the US department of state sanction to the death squad. And six of top commanders where sanctions and got their visa banned by the US government. The bigger picture when this kind of situations happens like a government has a clear double standard. Death penalty is against human rights, so you cannot have it. But then to control your drug traffic you also use violence and killings, and the law enforcement agencies don’t comply to international human rights laws. The extrajudicial killings in this government is about 2700, documented ones. Undocumented cases also show bodies found in different part of the country, and their families cannot travel to identify the body. And we have seen a big number of unidentified bodies found. Humanitarian organizations organize the funerals, because none is there to claim the body. The government doesn’t have any form of accountability in parliament , in the judicial system or internationally, In this context the last two elections 2014 and 2018 where rigged. The ruling party manufactured and controlled the elections to keep on power. These frauds were reported by the BBC and transparency international also made a survey that found that the voting was done the previous night of election. The national BAR association elected their board pressured by the law enforcement, that invaded the BAR building and vetoed everyone that was there. There is no way to carry out human right investigations this way. There is no resort to go for any kind for victims for human rights or political rights victims. And that’s why this international accountability in the EU or the UK or USA, Canada or Australia. This could play a very effective role. Any change of the human right or the drug killing in Bangladesh, the first and foremost thing is to have request a credible election under a neutral government, not this government. Because anyone how is independent and want to document these issues are facing prosecution, right now various of my colleagues that documented killing by law enforcement agencies in 2013 are facing cybercrime trails. The trails will end in few week and they will face 5 to 10 years in prison minimum. The international community need to raise their voice as much as possible so they don´t end in jail, and then the freedom of press and civil society protection needs also to ponder on the sanction remine, and how to best use it in the case of Bangladesh.  

Natalia Kubesch – Legal offices on the UK offices on REDRESS:  Thank you very much. Well, thank you very much for having me here today. It really is a pleasure to be speaking on this panel. Today I’ll be looking at the UK’s Magnitsky sanction regime and how I can provide a form of accountability for human rights violations committed in pursuance of states global war and policies. I’ll be speaking from a UK perspective today, but many points and considerations I will discuss are also applicable to the US&US sanctions regime. Before I start, I’ll quickly give you the points I will cover today. First, I will discuss how human rights abuses committed in the context of the global war on drugs qualify as sanctionable activities under the UK sanction regime. Second, I will discuss UK’s current landscape of sanctions on perpetrators involved in global war and drug abuses and political considerations that potentially impact government’s willingness to impose sanctions in this context. Third, I would draw on UK’s previous experience of the use of targeted sanctions on perpetrators based in countries UK consider strategic allies, including the Philippines and Bangladesh, to discuss factors that it could increase the likelihood of Magnitsky sanctions. I will conclude by highlighting how sanctions submission by civil society serve as an important advocacy tool for people seeking accountability for human rights abuses in the name of the global war on drug policies. Before I go on and set out UK’s sanctions regime, it is crucial to flag that the UK Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office encourages civil societies to submit dossiers of evidence on perpetrators of human rights violations and requests for them to be sanctioned for their involvement in these abuses. It is therefore a regime that encourages and very much relies on civil society engagement and the evidence they can provide. So, by way of background to the UK’s Magnitsky sanction regime authorizes the imposition of asset freezes and travel bans against individuals or entities involved in certain serious human rights violations. These violations are defined as an individual’s right to life. The right not to be subject to torture, cruel, inhumane, or degrading treatment, and the right to be free from slavery and forced labor. War on drug policies often serve as an excuse for disproportionate punishment, torture, and extra judicial killings. Moreover, the persecution, incarceration, ultimately execution of drug users exasperates poverty and leaves children vulnerable to sexual exploitation and modern slavery. Policies promoting such as abuses therefore clearly qualify as sanctionable conduct. Further, under the UK regime, a person is considered to have been involved in these violations not only if they have committed a violation, but also if they’ve overseen or otherwise facilitated, promoted, incited, supported, concealed, failed, investigated and benefited from it. This has the potential to capture a broad range of perpetrators involved in promoting war and drug policies. From police officers, army officials, judges, lawyers, journalists, doctors and politicians authorizing, overseeing, inciting, willfully ignoring or benefiting from these abuses. As a final step under the UK regime, UK government must assess whether sanctions align of certain policy considerations, including U K’s human rights priorities, the scale of the violations and whether domestic accountability for violation is possible. Now, while stopping violence in the context of the global war on drug is not per se a UK government priority, state government priority, individuals that are particular at risk are those that report on the violence and protest against the government abuses, which squarely falls within UK human rights priorities on the protection of media freedom and human rights defenders. For example, in the Philippines alone is estimated at 30,000 extrajudicial killings. And with that, the scale of these abuses substantially exceeds many other instances of human rights abuses that have resulted in sanctions by the UK government. Finally, there’s a clear lack of domestic accountability. Again, in the context of the Philippines, despite the thousands of deaths, only one case has resulted in a criminal conviction to date. All other implicated officers in the war on drugs have received minor disciplinary sanctions or escaped justice altogether. Therefore, on the face of it, government officials involved in extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearance committed as part of the global war on drug policies qualify for sanctions under the UK regime, and such sanctions would align with the UK’s policy considerations. Now, having established that these criteria are met, let’s look at figures of how many people have actually been sanctioned to date. The answer, disappointingly, is that to date UK has sanctioned only three Iranian judges and ministers for, among other reason, having overseen executions for drug related offenses and condoning excessive punishments for drug offences under the Iran country sanction regime. No individual to date has been sanctioned under the human rights sanctions regime and no designation refers specifically to war on drug policies. I’ll quickly touch on two reasons why this may be the case. First, many countries implicated in human rights abuses on the war on drugs are strategic allies and trading partners of the UK. Both the Philippines and Bangladesh are considered important partners for the UK in areas of trade, investment, security and defense. This context creates significant diplomatic sensitivities, impacting UK government’s willingness to impose targeted human rights sanctions on the responsible officials. Second, the war on drugs is not an area UK government has paid much attention. The last time UK government discussed the war on drugs was in the context of human rights violations committed in the Philippines in 2019, nearly four years ago now. All of this not to say that the prospect of UK human rights sanction is impossible in the in the case of human rights violation committed as a part of the global war on drugs. Based on what we’ve seen so far, there are certain factors that can possibly increase the likelihood of UK Magnitsky sanctions. Even in cases where they are strong countervailing consideration, such as strategic relationships or economic interest. First, Magnitsky sanction targets specific individuals, not the country as a whole. This gives UK flexibility to select specific individuals responsible for the abuses without necessarily implicating the leadership of the country in question. In practice, what this means is that where they are strong incentives not to jeopardize diplomatic or economic relations, the UK government is more likely to designate lower ranking officials who committed the abuses, but are not. 


David:  We just have a couple of questions.  

Participant: Good afternoon. Thank you so much, Dave for organizing this side event to the 66th Commission on Narcotic Drugs and to the speakers that we had today, both in person and online. We’re very grateful, especially because you also focused on the Philippines situation and I’m very grateful to the Filipinos who are in here today who are very interested in the issue at hand. I would like to direct a question to our dear father Albert because you had specifically addressed the Filipinos and I assume it’s the Filipinos not just here the but the Filipinos across the globe because this is being transmitted globally. And if we go back to the slide that you said listen to the victims and authentic witnesses as Filipinos living abroad, what would you, what would be your practical suggestion, recommendation on how we can really do this? Is it’s easier said than done. For example, in Vienna we have a very active Filipino community in, in various areas, civic, religious, interest groups. How do we come up with practical ways of transmitting this into action? 

Father Albert: Thank you very much. Now, number one, there are sources of information, not just the statistics but stories about the victims and check. The news from the BBC, from Human Rights Watch. And since some of you are organized, maybe you can organize a forum using the time for sharing information or and or if you can invite some members of the families of the victims, so that we can listen to their stories. Not from us, not from the advocates, but from those who really get confused on what happened to their families. And second, when I say authentic witnesses, there have been witnesses, those who confess that they were members of the double dead squads like Edgar Matobato, Arturo Lascanas. Listen to their stories. They have stand as a witness to their spiritual conversion. Not all of them, not all the persons presented as testimony, as witnesses are OK. Sometimes we get faulted for that. But there are serious conversion stories, spiritual conversion stories, and their stories are precious. They’re like I said, embarrassed prophets. I’m I have named 2, but there are other people. And finally listen to Laila Da Lima, listen to Marisa Ressa are not getting money from their risk adventure, So their stories are precious. Let’s not waste lives by killing people and let’s not waste truth by not listening to those authentic witnesses. Thank you.  


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