MANILA – The United Nations High Commissioner on Human Rights said on Tuesday that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte committed murder when he — as he himself declared — killed suspected criminals while he was mayor of Davao City.
In a statement, High Commissioner Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein called on Philippine authorities to investigate Duterte over his admission that he “personally” killed when he was his city’s local chief executive.
“The killings committed by Mr. Duterte, by his own admission, at a time when he was a mayor, clearly constitute murder,” Zeid said.
“It should be unthinkable for any functioning judicial system not to launch investigative and judicial proceedings when someone has openly admitted being a killer,” he added.
Zeid said Duterte’s acts while still mayor “directly contravene” the rights enshrined in Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution, and 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.
Zeid said Duterte may also have committed incitement to violence when he encouraged others to follow his example in killing suspected criminals.
On December 14, Duterte admitted that he led by example to the police and joined them in operations and personally patrolling the streets to “personally” kill criminals when he was still Davao mayor.
“In Davao I used to do it personally. Just to show to the guys that, if I can do it, why can’t you? And I go around in Davao with a motorcycle, with a big bike around and I would just patrol the streets and looking for trouble also,” Duterte said.
“Talagang naghanap ako ng engkwentro para makapatay,” he added during the Wallace Business Forum in Malacañang.
In a news conference after midnight on Saturday, Duterte said that he killed three kidnappers during a police operation.
In his state visit in Cambodia, Duterte also said he might have shot a criminal.
Zeid said the President’s repeated calls for the police, military and the general public to engage in a “war on drugs” has fostered an environment of “alarming impunity and violence.”
Since assuming the presidency on June 30, reports suggested that 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.
“Despite police investigating thousands of the deaths perpetrated by vigilantes, there is surprisingly little information on actual prosecutions,” Zeid said.
“Children as young as five years old have been the innocent victims of this appalling epidemic of extra-judicial killings,” he added.
Zeid said Duterte’s assurance to give immunity to police officers who would end up killing criminals 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,” he added.
Zeid also threw his full support to a statement by the UN Special Rapporteur on summary executions, Agnes Callamard, calling on the Philippine government to lift a series of preconditions it imposed on her planned visit to investigate the alleged extra-judicial killings of suspected drug dealers.
Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay had been quoted as saying that Duterte’s invitation to Callamard was cancelled after the international body refused the conditions set by the Philippine government.
Yasay would later clarify that the invitation still stood but added that the government would be inclined to withdraw if the UN insisted on its own rules for the investigation.
By MARK MERUEÑAS | GMA News