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Press releases Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

Zeid urges investigation into Philippines president's claim to have killed three people

Philippines killings

20 December 2016

GENEVA (20 December 2016) – The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein on Tuesday urged the Philippines judicial authorities to launch investigative processes following  last week’s admission by the President of the Philippines that as Mayor of Davao he had killed people, and encouraged others to do the same.

President Duterte told business leaders at the presidential palace on 14 December that he had patrolled the streets personally on his motorcycle and killed people. In an interview with the BBC on Friday he confirmed he had personally killed “about three” people during his term as mayor. Mr Duterte served as mayor for three terms between 1988-2016. He has previously stated the three people killed in 1988 were suspected of rape and kidnapping. 

“Such acts directly contravene the rights enshrined in Article III of the Philippine Constitution,” the High Commissioner said. “The killings described by President Duterte also violate international law, including the right to life, freedom from violence and force, due process and fair trial, equal protection before the law, and innocence until proven guilty. As a government official, if he encouraged others to follow his example, he may also have committed incitement to violence.”

“The Philippines judicial authorities must demonstrate their commitment to upholding the rule of law and their independence from the executive by launching a murder investigation,” the UN human rights chief said. “The killings committed by Mr. Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder. It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and  judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer.”

Zeid said the President’s repeated calls for the police, military and the general public to engage in a ‘war on drugs’, bringing people in ‘dead or alive’, has fostered an environment of alarming impunity and violence.  Since assuming the presidency on 30June, reports suggest a total of over 6,100 people have been killed either by police, or by vigilantes and mercenaries, apparently acting in response to the President’s war on drugs. In his public comments last week, Mr Duterte promised “For as long as there are drug lords, this campaign will go on until the last day of my term and until all of them are killed.”

“Despite police investigating thousands of the deaths perpetrated by vigilantes, there is surprisingly little information on actual prosecutions,” said Zeid. “Children as young as five years old have been the innocent victims of this appalling epidemic of extra-judicial killings.”

Zeid said that repeated statements indicating that immunity would be provided to police officers who engaged in human rights violations in the line of duty were “a direct violation of all democratic safeguards that have been established to uphold justice and the rule of law.”

“Credible and independent investigations must be urgently re-opened into the killings in Davao, as well as into the shocking number of killings that have occurred across the country since Mr. Duterte became president,” said Zeid. “The perpetrators must be brought to justice, sending a strong message that violence, killings and human rights violations will not be tolerated by the State and that no one is above the law.”

The High Commissioner expressed his full support to last Friday’s statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, calling on the Government of the Philippines to lift a series of preconditions it imposed on her planned visit to investigate the alleged extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers.


For more information and media requests, please contact  Liz Throssell (141 22 917 9466 / [email protected]) or Rupert Colville (+41 22 917 9767 /[email protected])

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