or during a “buy-bust” operation in which undercover police officers purchase drugs to effect an arrest, the police near-universally claim that the suspect pulled a gun and shot at them, which, the police say, forces them to return fire and kill the person. In several cases Amnesty International reviewed, the police even alleged the suspect’s gun “malfunctioned” when trying to shoot them. As of 21 January 2017, these purported “shootouts” have led to the death of 2,500 alleged drug offenders and 35 police officers.
Direct witness testimony and independent investigations present a far different—and, based on Amnesty International’s field research, far more credible—account of what happens during many drug-related police operations. Police officers routinely bust down doors in the middle of the night and then kill in cold blood unarmed people suspected of using or selling drugs. In several cases documented by Amnesty International, witnesses described alleged drug offenders yelling they would surrender, at times while on their knees or in another compliant position. They were still gunned down. To cover their tracks, police officers appear often to plant “evidence” and falsify incident reports.
The Duterte administration’s relentless pressure on the police to deliver results in anti-drug operations has helped encourage these abusive practices. Worse, there appear to be financial incentives. A police officer with more than a decade of experience on the force, and who currently conducts operations as part of an anti-illegal drugs unit in Metro Manila, told Amnesty International that there are significant under-the-table payments for “encounters” in which alleged drug offenders are killed. He also said a racket between the police and some funeral homes leads to payments for each body brought in.
In addition to killings during police operations, there have been more than 4,100 drug-related killings by unknown armed persons. Amnesty International found strong evidence of links between state authorities and some armed persons who carry out drug-related killings. The police officer said officers sometimes disguise themselves as unknown armed persons, particularly when the target is someone whose family might bring a complaint or whose death might lead to greater suspicion; he mentioned female targets in particular. Two individuals paid to kill alleged drug offenders told Amnesty International that their boss is an active duty police officer; they reported receiving around 10,000 pesos (US $201) per killing. They said that before President Duterte took office, they had around two “jobs” a month. Now, they have three to four a week.
Victims of drug-related killings tend to have two things in common. First, they were overwhelmingly from the urban poor. Many were unemployed and lived in informal settlements or squatter communities. The killings mean further misery for already impoverished families, at times compounded by police officers stealing from them during crime scene investigations. A woman whose husband was killed said the police took goods she sold on commission, money she set aside for the electric bill, and even new shoes she bought for her child.
Second, in most cases documented by Amnesty International, there is a link to a “drug watch list” prepared by local government officials and shared with the police. Both the concept of the “watch list” itself and the way they are put together are deeply problematic. Inclusion is at times based on hearsay and community rumour or rivalry, with little to no verification. Lists are not comprised solely of persons reasonably suspected of crimes—for instance, past drug use, no matter how distant, is often sufficient. And being friends with or even neighbours of someone on a “watch list” can in practice be a death sentence. Amnesty International documented several cases in which bystanders or other people not on a “watch list” were killed, because they found themselves with or near alleged drug offenders. One victim was an 8-year-old boy. All extrajudicial executions, irrespective of who the victim is, are unlawful.
The drug-related killings represent a flagrant violation of international human rights law that is legally binding on the Philippines. At their forefront is the non-derogable human right to life, which extrajudicial executions violate. Other human rights, including the right to due process, the right to health, prisoners’ right to humane treatment and the rights of victims’ family members have also been violated.
Amnesty International is deeply concerned that the deliberate and widespread killings of alleged drug offenders, which appear to be systematic, planned and organised by the authorities, may constitute crimes against humanity.
In response, Philippine authorities, while claiming to investigate such killings, have failed to prosecute those responsible. No member of the police has faced criminal charges for a drug-related killing since Duterte took office. A relative of a man killed during an alleged “buy-bust” operation told Amnesty International that investigators from the National Bureau of Investigation discouraged her from pursuing a case, telling her that doing so would be “futile.” When families do fight against all odds and pursue a complaint, they are often profoundly afraid of police reprisal; several described instances of intimidation. As the state has failed in its
3 Throughout the report, conversions from Philippine pesos to US dollars reflect the rate from 25 January 2017.