How Biden, Trudeau, and Israel Help Duterte Commit Atrocities In The Philippines
A week after President Joe Biden reiterated his questionable claim that his administration stands up for human rights, the Biden State Department approved the sale of $2.5 billion in weapons to the Philippines, which is currently accused of crimes against humanity.
In 2021, the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she was seeking full judicial authorization from The Hague tribunal to open a full investigation into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing war on drugs that killed thousands of people, including innocent men, women, and children.
“Information obtained by the Prosecution suggests that state actors, primarily members of the Philippine security forces, killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations.”
What did the Philippines do wrong?
In 2020, Bensouda reported that there is a “reasonable basis to believe” the Philippines committed crimes against humanity in connection with President Rodrigo Duterte’s so-called 'war on drugs'. Separately, in 2017 Human Rights Watch found President Duterte and other senior officials have instigated and incited the murders of mostly urban and impoverished people. Bensouda concluded that the crimes committed by the Duterte regime included murder, torture, infliction of serious physical injury, and mental harm between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019.
Around the period that the HRW report was released, Duterte ordered the Philippines to withdraw from the ICC, fearing accountability for his administration's illegal and criminal actions against humanity. Even though the Philippines is no longer a party to the court’s Rome Statute, the ICC can still try crimes committed while the Philippines was a member – from November 1, 2011 until March 16, 2019.
Why is the Philippines murdering innocent people?
Philippines President Duterte launched his terror campaign allegedly aimed at the illegal narcotics industry shortly after his victory in the May 2016 presidential elections. Duterte ran on a single issue of eradicating crimes in the Philippines, gained popularity through promises to murder criminals, and has repeatedly urged police to execute drug suspects.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency data shows that from July 1, 2016, to April 30, 2021, police and security forces have killed at least 6,117 suspected "drug dealers" during operations. A Philippine police report in 2017, referred to 16,355 “homicide cases under investigation” as accomplishments in the drugs war. Officially the Philippine National Police claims at least 7,884 people they allege were "drug dealers" were killed up to August 1, 2020.
The United Nations counts at least 8,000 state murders, while human rights defenders estimate there have already been at least 30,000. This includes murders outside of police operations that were carried out by Duterte death squads and vigilantes. Human rights defenders also report the summary executions of innocent people including children. At least 129 children have been reportedly killed by the Duterte administration. 38.5% of the documented child killings were carried out by policemen while 61.5% were by vigilantes, “some of them with direct links to the police”. The youngest victim was a 20-month-old baby girl.
What has the global response to Duterte's terror campaign been?
President Rodrigo Duterte's anti-drug campaign has drawn condemnation around the world. On June 30, 2020 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet spoke before the Human Rights Council and gave a damning report describing the killings as "widespread and systematic." Instead of condemning these abuses, the UN Human Rights Council instead opted to provide technical cooperation and capacity-building to the Duertete government, which is actively committing the crimes and denies any wrongdoing.
The EU Parliament on the other hand adopted a resolution pushing for immediate trade sanctions against the Philippines. The resolution called on the European Commission to initiate the procedure for the temporary withdrawal of the Generalised Scheme of Preferences Plus (GSP+) program granted by the 27-nation bloc to the Philippines "in the absence of any substantial improvement and willingness to cooperate on the part of the Philippine authorities."
Meanwhile, the United States, Israel, and Canada continue to actively support the Philippines through monetary aid, weapons sales, and military assistance.
In 2014, The Philippines and Canada signed a memorandum of understanding that formalized their defense training cooperation, which also included training opportunities for Filipino personnel in Canada. Training courses were also offered to Filipino forces by the Canadian Armed Forces in Nova Scotia, Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia. In 2016, Justin Trudeau claimed to have stood up for human rights by condemning Duterte's crimes during a state visit. That same year Canada brokered the sale of 16 combat utility helicopters worth $185m to the Philippine air force. During the 2020 pandemic, the Canadian government donated CAD$ 1.1 million worth of assistance to the Philippines. In 2021, Prime Minister Justin Treaudu said, despite the ongoing crimes against humanity, "Canada and the Philippines enjoy very strong people-to-people ties and a relationship built on shared priorities, including international trade, peace and security, and gender equality."
Traditionally Israel has supported human rights abuses in the Philippines and even provided continuous support for dictator Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled the country from 1965 to 1986, and whose death squads and militias were armed and trained by Israelis. While Duterte has compared himself to Hitler and claimed he would happily slaughter 3 million drug users, he was welcomed by Israel's former PM Netenyahu with open arms. From 2016 onward Israel has been supporting Duterte's crimes against humanity through arms sales, equipment sales military support, and trade. Duterte's forces are currently armed with Israeli Tavor rifles and other Israeli armaments.
Israel's biggest weapons customers are known to be in Asia and include India, Azerbaijan, Sri Lanka, and the Philippines. In 2018 Duterte announced that he’ll buy only Israeli weapons because there are no restrictions, a statement that while hyperbolic, has proven to be mostly true. "We share the same passion for peace, we share the same passion for human beings. But also we share the same passion of not allowing our country to be destroyed by those who … know nothing but to kill and destroy." Both Israel and the Philippines enjoy impunity for their crimes against humanity largely due to support from the US, Canada, and Israel.
Is Joe Biden a hypocrite when it comes to human rights?
On April 16, President Joe Biden promised that his foreign policy would differentiate from former President Donald Trump, pledging to put human rights and democracy at the center of his approach to global affairs. Since then the Biden administration is yet to make the US a member of the ICC, condemn Israel for its recent massacre of Palestinian civilians in Gaza, or condemn the ongoing killings of civilians by the narco-linked authorities in Colombia.
While the Biden administration did lifte sanctions and visa restrictions on officials of the International Criminal Court imposed by the Trump administration, the Biden administration made it clear that the United States continues to oppose ICC investigations in Afghanistan and Palestine, where the US and allies would have to face accountability for their crimes. More generally the Biden administration seems to oppose any ICC jurisdiction over the nationals of non-states parties.
On June 16, President Joe Biden once again reiterated his alleged stance on human rights. Biden claimed that he told Russian President Putin, responsible for a litany of human rights violations, that "human rights is always going to be on the table" for the United States. However, a week later human rights appear to have disappeared from the table as the US approved new weapons to the Philippines and the Duterte regime.
What exactly did the US approve to sell?
While the US state department has approved the sale the current notification does not indicate that a contract has been signed or that negotiations have concluded. What is known is that the US State Department has approved the potential sale of F-16 Block 70/72 for up to $2.43 billion and AIM-9X Sidewinder Block II Tactical Missiles for up to $42.4 million. The Pentagon also notified the US Congress of the possible sale of two missile packages, which are 12 AGM-84L-1 Harpoon Block II Air Launched Missiles, two training missiles, spares, and equipment made by Boeing and valued at $120 million.
How did Duterte respond to the ICC?
Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, dismissed the ICC decision to investigate as “legally erroneous and politically motivated.” He also lied that the ICC “has no jurisdiction” to convict Duterte's crimes, and gaslighted the audience by adding that authorities have “the right to defend” themselves using “reasonable force” during drug operations, “and therefore, justified by the principle of necessity and proportionality.”
Duterte called on human rights organisations to take "a closer look" into his war on drugs. “You would notice that there are really persons who die almost daily because they fought back,” he then said, “Do not destroy the country. I will kill you.” Duterte has also gone on racially motivate tirades where he decried prosecutor Bensouda as “that black woman” while insulting another investigator, Agnes Callamard, calling her “skinny” and malnourished.”
How is the Philippines reacting to news of an investigation?
The ICC prosecutor’s move to investigate Duterte is welcomed by human rights groups in the Philippines and as well as international. Several groups including ICHRP and HRW urged United Nations Human Rights Council to "effectively condemn the Duterte government’s atrocities,” and "probe and course-correct" their actions and help the victims of Dutertes crimes.
Peter Murphy, ICHRP spokesperson, said it is up to the UN to “send a strong message that it too will no longer allow the Philippine government to continue its campaign of human rights violations with impunity.”