MANILA, Philippines — A majority of the thousands of killings of poor suspects under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug crackdown appear to be "extrajudicial executions," Amnesty International said Wednesday, and may constitute crimes against humanity.
The London-based human rights group urged Duterte's government to adopt an approach that respects human rights in its fight against drugs and crime, and called on the police and judiciary to ensure accountability and prosecute officers involved in unlawful killings.
After investigating the deaths of 59 people, and interviewing 110 witnesses, relatives of slain suspects, drug users, police officers and even hired killers, from November to December, Amnesty said it had concluded that "the vast majority of these killings appear to have been extrajudicial executions."
Amnesty said it's "deeply concerned that the deliberate and widespread killings of alleged drug offenders, which appear to be systematic, planned and organized by the authorities, may constitute crimes against humanity."
There was no immediate government reaction, but Duterte, a lawyer and former government prosecutor, has defended the crackdown and says that he and his top police officials have authorized law enforcers to open fire only when threatened by suspects.
The deaths of at least 35 policemen and three soldiers prove that suspects have fought back during raids, according to the police.
Duterte took office in June, and since then more than 7,000 suspects have been killed, including many slain in clashes with police. That is an average of 34 a day, Amnesty said. The campaign and deaths have alarmed Western governments, including the United States and the European Union.
In several cases, the rights group said its investigation found that "witnesses described alleged drug offenders yelling they would surrender, at times while on their knees or in another compliant position. They were still gunned down."
It said police officers often appear to have planted "evidence" and falsified incident reports.
A police officer, who was involved in the crackdown in Manila, stated that police and hired killers profit from the killings, with some law enforcers getting paid from funeral parlors for each body brought in, the Amnesty report said.
Amnesty said it interviewed two hired killers involved in the campaign who were paid 10,000 pesos ($200) by a police officer for each killing they carried out, adding they gunned down three to four suspects a week.
On Monday, National police chief Director-General Ronald Dela Rosa indefinitely stopped all police anti-drug raids and disbanded police anti-narcotics units after the anti-drug crackdown was used as a cover by a group of rogue officers to kidnap and kill a South Korean man for money in a still-unraveling scandal.
The widely publicized scandal prompted Dela Rosa to form a counter-intelligence force to cleanse the 170,000-strong police force of criminals and corrupt officers. He has tried to resign twice but Duterte, who has pledged to defend the police enforcing his crackdown, has ordered him to stay on.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court prohibited a group of police officers from entering a slum community to stop them from threatening villagers who accused the officers of ruthlessly killing four residents in an anti-drug raid.