President Rodrigo Roa Duterte and US President Donald Trump discuss matters during a bilateral meeting at the Philippine International Convention Center in Pasay City on November 13, 2017. ROBINSON NIÑAL JR./PRESIDENTIAL PHOTO

Extrajudicial killings in the Philippines

This country spotlight refers to data published in 2019. For the most recent data, go to our Rights Tracker.

‘War on drugs’ is a denial of the right to life

Since the election of Rodrigo Duterte in June 2016, a violent ‘war on drugs’ has claimed upwards of 5,000 lives in the Philippines. Executions by police and militia groups that target drug dealers and users not only exacerbate the drug problem but constitute a violation of the right to freedom from execution by extrajudicial killing.

Protest against the Philippine war on drugs at the Philippines Consulate General in New York City, CC VOCAL-NY (Voices Of Community Activists & Leaders).

On July 1st 2016, Oliver Dela Cruz was shot to death in Bulacan province during a police sting operation. He was playing cards at a friend’s house when a group of armed men broke in, interrogated and executed him. Police denied any responsibility, blaming vigilante violence.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which the Philippines has signed, recognises the right to life. The death penalty was abolished in the Philippines in 1987, and the country signed the Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, becoming part of the global movement against the death penalty.

Under the ICCPR, the right to be free from execution also covers arbitrary and extrajudicial killing. The Human Rights Measurement Initiative tracks the performance of countries around the world on upholding these rights.

The killings of Mr Dela Cruz and thousands of others are a denial of the right to life, the right to freedom from execution.

While the current administration is not directly responsible for the authorisation of these extra-judicial executions, Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary or Arbitrary Killings, blamed Duterte’s hard-line approach and rhetoric for exacerbating the violence and denounced the lack of investigation into the killings.

Police and militia groups are not being held to account for their actions. This is a rejection of the government’s obligation to investigate violations of the right to life and the right to freedom from extrajudicial killing.

The right to freedom from execution

According to international law, the right to be free from execution includes freedom from any arbitrary or extrajudicial deprivation of life, as well as freedom from the death penalty even with due process of law (ICCPR, Part III, Article 6; Second Optional Protocol to the ICCPR, Article 1).

This is a fundamental human right that must be respected and governments are legally obligated to do what they can to prevent such killings and hold those responsible to account.

HRMI’s Civil and Political Rights data collection

In 2019, we collected information on civil and political rights in 19 survey countries via a secure online expert opinion survey (please note this is a link to a preview of the survey only, and any responses you make will not be collected).

These countries were selected based on the following two criteria:

  • Sufficient interest from human rights experts in that country for inclusion (so that we could be sure to have sufficient numbers of survey respondents and active engagement during the survey).
  • A sub-set of 19 countries that offered diversity of sizes, regions, cultures, income levels, degree of openness etc (so that we could learn how well our survey methodology worked in different contexts).

The graph below shows how the 19 countries in the HRMI survey performed on freedom from execution.


Scores for freedom from execution by extrajudicial killing. Explore the data further here.

It seems likely that the Philippines would perform poorly relative to the survey countries, due to the number of unlawful executions carried out since 2016, but without data it is harder for human rights defenders to do their work and hold governments to account.

As soon as funding allows, we will extend our civil and political rights data collection to the Philippines and the rest of the world, and expand our full set of data to measure other rights protected by international law.

If you want to help fund our expansion to the Philippines, and all countries in the world, please contact us.

Who can use these data?

All of HRMI’s data are freely available to anyone. You can explore our data site here, and even download the dataset.

We have data on seven civil and political rights: as well as five economic and social rights.

HRMI aims to produce useful data. Some of the people we expect will use our data are:

  • Journalists, especially those reporting a particular country, and those focusing on human rights, politics, social issues or international affairs
  • Researchers
  • Government policy advisers
  • Human rights advocates
  • NGOs
  • Human rights monitors within a region, and at the international level
  • Companies, for decision-making, to minimise risk for investors, and direct capital flows ethically.

If you know anyone in those categories, please let them know about HRMI, in case our data can be useful to them.

HRMI’s data have been available for only a few months so far, but as different people use them, we want to share stories and case studies. Whenever you see our data in action, please tell us, and we’ll include a link on our website.

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