Earlier this month, the United Nations’ 47-member Human Rights Council voted to examine the alleged extrajudicial killings connected with President Rodrigo Duterte’s antidrug campaign.
On July 12, 2019, Iceland proposed a resolution backed by 18 countries, which 14 opposed and 15 others abstained. The purpose was not to incite a commission of inquiry, but to call upon UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, to prepare a report by July 2020 to ensure tougher follow-up action if the abuses continue. Some of these alleged abuses include killings, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests, and persecution of activists, journalists, and lawyers. The goal is to hold the Philippines accountable for their actions and send a message that they have not gone unnoticed. The Philippines reacted by denouncing the initiative as something “straight from the mouth of the queen in Alice in Wonderland,” and lobbied against it, citing an abuse of procedures and a poor use of resources.
This is not the first time the UN has weighed in on the violence occurring in the Philippines. One month ago, on June 7, 2019, UN human rights experts called for the organization to open an investigation into the country’s human rights violations. For support, the experts referred to the rapid increase in these violations toward people and institutions in the nation. Furthermore, since the inception of the antidrug campaign three years ago, 11 special rapporteurs brought this topic to the UN more than one dozen times.
A plethora of sources alluding to the violence taking place in the Philippines warrants the UN experts’ concerns and actions. One of the most recent alleged atrocities, and arguably the catalyst for Iceland’s resolution, was the death of 3-year-old Myca Ulpina in late June. Ulpina died during a police raid targeting her father who used her as a “human shield”. This is one of 6,600 deaths acknowledged by the Philippine government since the war against drugs began. However, the UN estimates this number to be approximately five times higher. A noticeable characteristic of these deaths is that they occur mostly in impoverished areas. This trend has led to devastation within poor communities as sole breadwinners continue to die, leaving their families with immense financial burdens they cannot pay off.
According to Amnesty International, a reason for the excess in human rights violations is that the campaign is liberal in its accusations. All it takes to be murdered or arrested is an unproven allegation that someone uses, buys, or sells drugs. Outside of the country, the government consistently practices intimidation to quell concerns. Even Duterte has publically bullied human rights defenders, UN experts, and Supreme Court justices. One of his most extreme cases took place when he threatened to bomb the schools of the Lumad indigenous peoples on Mindanao Island.
These tactics are no surprise to the international community, as the Duterte administration has continuously clashed with other states since rising to power. Most recently, the government exercised its disdain of international critique by withdrawing from the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is the world’s only permanent war crimes tribunal and has pledged to continue to investigate the Philippines alleged killings. Although Duterte claimed the court “can never acquire jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years”, the case can and will still be examined through March 2020.
These trends – increased violence in the Philippines, as well as Duterte’s decision to leave the ICC – reveal the administration’s disregard for the rule of law and draw an eerie parallel to the current dynamics of the U.S. executive branch. From Duterte’s crude and controversial comments to his threats and bribes, he is continuously displaying apathy for the standards of law and government.
Meanwhile, President Trump consistently lauds Duterte on his actions, making it difficult not to draw a connection between the two. Trump may not be as extreme as Duterte on disregarding the law, but he has shown tendencies to lash out when he is questioned or critiqued (i.e. ousting multiple cabinet members, aggressively ranting on Twitter, ridiculing opposing politicians, etc.). Fortunately, it is unlikely the U.S. could be in a situation like the Philippines as the country is centered on relatively strong and established democratic institutions. However, it is important to look at the aforementioned leaders as examples of what can happen when an administration places their own needs and ego above their nation.