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Rights groups want tougher stance on Duterte's drug war from Trump

Philippine and international human rights groups aired their recommendations during a US Congress panel hearing into President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs. File

MANILA, Philippines — Rights groups testifying before a US Congressional panel Thursday listed encouraging US President Donald Trump to denounce extrajudicial killings and restricting aid to Philippine police as two of the many ways Capitol Hill could stop mounting deaths in President Rodrigo Duterte's drug war.

Over 7,000 lives have been claimed by the Philippine government's drug crackdown. Authorities, however, released data last May showing a lower figure of nearly 4,600 drug-related killings.
 
 
Amnesty International, one of the three rights groups that testified, said the Duterte administration’s relentless pressure on the police to deliver results resulted in a "murder economy."
 
The group's investigation found that cops in some areas of the country have received significant under-the-table payments ranging from P8,000 to P15,000 for drug offenders killed in alleged encounters. It also uncovered collusion between the police and some funeral homes, where the former are paid for each body they bring.
 
 
The other rights groups in the hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission were Philippine group iDefend and New York-based Human Rights Watch.
 
The commission is looking into extrajudicial killings under the Duterte administration’s war on drugs. It is expected to provide policy recommendations to ensure accountability for human rights violations and to address problems of drug abuse and trafficking without compromising public health and rule of law. Here are the recommendations made by the three groups: 
 

Suspend US aid

The State Department and the Millennium Challenge Corp. were requested to discontinue assistance to Philippine security forces until drug killings stop and meaningful steps to accountability are underway. 
 
The MCC is an independent US aid agency which uses economic freedom, good governance and investment in citizens as indicators in assessing potential grantees. The agency suspended a funding grant for the Philippines due to rule of law and civil liberties concerns under the Duterte administration.
 
The rights groups said the US Congress should take measures to ensure that no US assistance supports human rights violations.
 
Specific human rights benchmarks, including requiring Duterte to end drug killings and allowing a United Nations-led investigation into the deaths, could also be imposed, HRW said. It also suggested that the US Congress could direct the Secretary of State to work with other foreign governments to impose similar restrictions.

Pass legislation

They called for the passage of the Philippine Human Rights Accountability and Counter Narcotics Act of 2017 or S.1055 introduced last May 4 by Sens. Cardin (D-Maryland), Rubio (R-Florida), Schatz (D-Hawaii) and Markey (D-Massachusetts).
 
The bill "places restrictions on defense aid to the country, provides additional funding for the Philippine human rights community, and supports a public health approach to drug use," HRW said while adding that it would like to see a similar bill introduced in the House.
 
The bill also includes an important provision authorizing assistance to victims.
 

Funding, technical support for rights monitors

AI said the US Congress should support efforts led by Philippine human rights defenders and the Commission on Human Rights—both of which received harsh criticisms from the president.
 
 
"With limited budgets, and in the face of harassment and threats, Philippine human rights defenders are documenting the horrors of the 'drug war' and pursuing legal action to stop them. Financial and technical support from the United States would allow these efforts to respond better to the enormous needs that exist."
 
iDefend urged the government to stop threatening human rights defenders. The group also asked for help in strengthening the investigative and forensic capacities of Philippine law enforcement agencies.

Ask Trump administration to speak up

AI suggested that the commission and the US Congress ask the Trump administration its position on the Philippine government’s anti-drug policies and rhetoric.

"[I]t should strongly encourage the Trump Administration, in any future calls or meetings with President Duterte or his cabinet, to demand an end to the extrajudicial executions, to the dehumanization and incitement of violence against people who use or sell drugs, and to the impunity that exists."

Trump had praised Duterte's drug war during a phone call last April and invited the Philippine leader to the White House. The invite was met with disapproval locally and internationally as analysts said it sends a message that human rights concerns are unimportant in the United States.

The group added that the power and relevance of strong statements should never be underestimated, noting that the Catholic Church, an important Philippine institution, has become increasingly vocal and critical of the drug war.

Halt Duterte's White House visit

The groups recommended the cancellation of Duterte’s state visit to the US in October. iDefend said that doing so would send a clear message that the mass killings and systematic violations of human rights in the Philippines are unacceptable and a collective concern of the global community.
 
Trump breached diplomatic protocol when he invited Duterte as the US leader did not inform the State department about it beforehand.
 
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