Rights groups hit Duterte for encouraging ‘war crimes’

Janvic Mateo, Artemio Dumlao (The Philippine Star) - March 11, 2017 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines -  Human Rights Watch warned yesterday President Duterte is “encouraging war crimes” in the country by declaring that “anything goes for now” when it comes to the government’s fight against communist insurgency.

Carlos Conde of HRW said “Duterte’s counter-insurgency rhetoric is frighteningly reminiscent of his praise and encouragement for police killings of suspected drug users and drug dealers, which has instigated unlawful force and incited violence.

“He should promptly make clear to the Armed Forces that counter-insurgency operations are constrained by law, and that those who violate them, from the lowliest private to the commander-in-chief, will be held to account,” Conde said.

As this developed, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said yesterday it would form a new team to investigate new allegations over the supposed existence of the so-called Davao death squad (DDS) under then mayor and now President Duterte.

Human rights group Karapatan also decried the abuses committed by the current administration and political killings that have so far claimed the lives of 39 people.

Karapatan’s secretary general Cristina Palabay also said Duterte’s threat to declare martial law in Mindanao to maintain peace and order and his orders against the communist insurgents were not acceptable.

While attending a memorial service for four policemen killed in an ambush believed to be perpetrated by the New People’s Army (NPA) in Davao del Sur last Wednesday, Duterte urged the army to “go ahead, flatten the hills” and if “there’s collateral damage, pasensiya,” – a Tagalog word that could mean either “I’m sorry” or “too bad,” Conde noted.

HRW said this was alarming as Duterte’s words could cost many civilian lives.

Palabay also said Duterte “cannot use the alleged incident in Bansalan, Davao del Sur to justify these violations any further and act as if these state agents are all so innocent.”

“International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, rejects the ‘anything goes’ approach to warfare and places specific restraints on all parties to an armed conflict to spare civilians and other non-combatants the horrors of war,” Conde said.

“Armies must take all feasible precautions to minimize harm to civilians. Attacks against lawful targets cannot be indiscriminate or cause civilian loss greater than the expected military gain. Were the Philippine military to ‘flatten the hills’ without regard to civilian loss of life and property, those involved would be committing war crimes,” Conde stressed.

He also lamented that in its several decades of armed conflict with the NPA and various Muslim insurgents, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) has committed numerous laws-of-war violations in which troops did not distinguish between rebel fighters and civilians.

“Many farmers and indigenous group members have been targets of attacks. In 2013, when fighting turned… Zamboanga City into a battlefield, Muslim rebels and army soldiers showed little regard for civilian protection and dozens were killed. Past military offensives elsewhere in the south have been conducted in a manner that has displaced hundreds of thousands, many indigenous peoples,” Conde said.

Palabay also said “these statements, along with the continuing implementation of counter-insurgency programs Oplan Bayanihan and Oplan Kapayapaan and the AFP’s declaration of all-out war are being used by the military and police as license to kill and arrest civilians, including leaders and members of people’s organizations.  

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