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Philippines’ War on Drugs Leaves 1,900 Dead in Less Than Two Months

Almost 2,000 people have been killed since the president of the Philippines launched a war on drugs.

MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JUNE 16: A suspected drug user is handcuffed during a night time raid on a drug den on June 16, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. The president-elect of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, declared a war on crime and drugs after sweeping an election on May 9 and has been living up to his nickname, "the punisher". Philippine police have been conducting night raids almost on a daily basis and revived a curfew for minors that had not been enforced for years, rounding up minors drinking on the streets. Based on local reports, there has been at least 59 drug-related deaths since the election and hundreds of drug suspects arrested over one month as Duterte reassured police on his full support if they killed criminals who resisted with violence. The raids have caused concern for Catholic church officials and human rights advocates as Duterte officially takes his oath as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines on June 30.  (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)
MANILA, PHILIPPINES - JUNE 16: A suspected drug user is handcuffed during a night time raid on a drug den on June 16, 2016 in Manila, Philippines. The president-elect of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, declared a war on crime and drugs after sweeping an election on May 9 and has been living up to his nickname, "the punisher". Philippine police have been conducting night raids almost on a daily basis and revived a curfew for minors that had not been enforced for years, rounding up minors drinking on the streets. Based on local reports, there has been at least 59 drug-related deaths since the election and hundreds of drug suspects arrested over one month as Duterte reassured police on his full support if they killed criminals who resisted with violence. The raids have caused concern for Catholic church officials and human rights advocates as Duterte officially takes his oath as the 16th president of the Republic of the Philippines on June 30. (Photo by Dondi Tawatao/Getty Images)

Newly elected Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte launched a war on drugs about seven weeks ago. The grim result? More than 1,900 dead and counting.

Ronald dela Rosa, chief of the country’s national police force, said at a Senate hearing in Manila this week that only about 750 of those people have been killed by police and that the rest of the deaths are under investigation. Whether it’s 750 or 1,900, the Philippine government has made no effort to mask the intentional targeting of anyone believed to be dealing drugs.

But according to dela Rosa, police were never given “shoot-to-kill” orders for those suspected of being drug dealers.

Funny he should claim that, because Duterte himself told a group of reporters the exact opposite earlier this month.

“My order is shoot to kill you,” he said about drug users and dealers. “I don’t care about human rights, you better believe me.”

Dela Rosa seems to have forgotten about those remarks, acknowledging at the hearing that the campaign has been aggressive but denying that the police are “butchers.”

He addressed the Senate as part of an ongoing investigation into the massive drug crackdown, which has prompted criticism from the United Nations and human rights organizations, which say the mass execution of suspected drug dealers violates international norms. Duterte doesn’t exactly seem to care. On Sunday, he threatened to withdraw the Philippines from the United Nations after the international body criticized his violent efforts to curb drug use in the country.

He called two U.N. experts who criticized the extrajudicial killings “very stupid” and told the U.N. it should stop “worrying about the bones of criminals piling up.”

Foreign Affairs Secretary Perfecto Yasay took back Duterte’s suggestion that the Philippines would “separate” from the U.N. on Monday and blamed the president’s statements on being “tired, disappointed, [and] hungry.”

“We must give him leeway,” he said. “He is also human.”

Harra Besorio, the partner of a small-time drug dealer killed during the raids, testified before lawmakers and described the raid that led to the arrests — and eventual executions — of her partner and his father. According to her, police stormed into her home, searched her infant for drugs, and then brought the two men to the station. They never returned. Now two of the police officers involved in their deaths are facing murder charges, a rarity in the ongoing drug war that has torn apart families across the island archipelago.

The same day Duterte acknowledged his shoot-to-kill orders, he said that some 500,000 people had turned themselves in to avoid being shot.

Apparently the government considers this a success.

“I admit many are dying but our campaign, now, we have the momentum,” dela Rosa said at the hearing.

Photo credit: DONDI TAWATAO/Getty Images

Siobhán O’Grady is a freelance journalist working across sub-Saharan Africa. She previously worked as a staff writer at Foreign Policy. @siobhan_ogrady

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