Manila, March 27 (IANS) The Philippines government has indirectly threatened rights groups by linking them with drug lords in the country, NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) said on Tuesday.
HRW was responding to a comment by Philippines Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, who on Monday said that “some human rights groups have become unwitting tools of drug lords to hinder the strides of the (Rodrigo Duterte) administration”, Efe news agency reported.
In its report, HRW’s Deputy Director of Asia Division Phelim Kine said Roque’s claims were “more than just gratuitous slurs aimed at undermining the integrity of Philippines human rights activists pushing back against the Duterte government’s attack on rule of law and its instigation and incitement of possible crimes against humanity”.
The association of rights groups with drug lords stood out as a “sinister veiled threat in a country in which the government-compiled ‘watch lists’ of suspected drug users and drug dealers had been linked to many of the ‘drug war’s’ thousands of victims”, HRW said.
The Duterte government’s intimidation tactics were misguided attempts to avoid probes by the UN and the International Criminal Court (ICC) into accountability for his administration’s war on drugs, the NGO added.
The Philippines government’s criticism of NGOs came as the ICC in early February announced its intention to launch a preliminary examination into killings that occurred amid the war on drugs.
On March 14, the Philippines President responded in turn by withdrawing the government’s ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC.
Despite Duterte’s popularity among most Filipinos, his brutal campaign against people linked to the drug trade is divisive and controversial.
According to Philippines government agencies, over 4,000 “drug personalities” have died in some 85,000 anti-drug operations since July 1, 2016, when Duterte assumed office.
However, HRW puts the campaign’s death toll much higher — at more than 13,000 — which includes killings by police officers and vigilante groups.