US troubled by increasing extrajudicial killings in Philippines

The body of a dead man with his head wrapped with masking tape, whom police said was a victim of a drug-related vigilante execution. (Reuters)
Updated 21 April 2017
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US troubled by increasing extrajudicial killings in Philippines

WASHINGTON: The United States said on Thursday it was troubled by the growing number of extrajudicial killings in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and called on Manila to stick to its commitment to investigate them.
According to police data issued this month, nearly 9,000 people, most of them drug users and dealers, have been killed since Duterte took office almost 10 months ago and promised an unrelenting campaign to rid the Philippines of illicit narcotics.
Police say about a third of the victims were shot by officers in self-defense. Human rights groups believe many of the remaining two thirds were killed by paid assassins cooperating with the police or by police themselves, disguised as vigilantes. The government and police reject that.
Patrick Murphy, the US deputy assistant secretary of state for Southeast Asia, said the United States shared Manila’s objective of eliminating the scourge of illicit drugs and wanted to help.
“We however do have a very sustained and deep concern when elements of the drug war are operating outside the rule of law,” Murphy told reporters. “The growing number of extrajudicial killings is troubling.”
Rights advocates were concerned when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sidestepped questions about extrajudicial killings in the Philippines during his January confirmation hearing, raising the possibility that President Donald Trump might take a softer line on the issue than his predecessor, President Barack Obama.
Murphy said there was a distinction between being a nominee and the secretary of state and Tillerson was now the leader of the policy of expressing concern about the way the drug war was being waged.
“We are urging the Philippines to follow up on its commitment to investigate extrajudicial killings whether they are committed by law enforcement, or of a vigilante nature,” he said.
Ernesto Abella, a spokesman of Duterte, said the Philippines shared the concern of the United States and said authorities “follow operational protocols” and those who breached procedures were made to answer before the law.
“We expect fairness and not a rush to judgment,” Abella said in a statement, adding persistent news report about close to 9,000 people being killed in the drug war “is false news.”
From July until March 24, he said police recorded more than 6,000 people had been killed, classified as cases under investigation, but only 1,398 of the deaths were found to be drug-related.
Abella’s figure did not include more than 2,600 people killed in police operations.
Earlier on Thursday, Duterte’s office rejected allegations by two senior police officers in a Reuters report that police received cash rewards for executing drug suspects, while the most high-profile critic of the president backed the officers’ claims.
Duterte was infuriated by US expressions of concern about extrajudicial killings after he took office last year and threatened to sever the long-standing US defense alliance.
Duterte spoke positively about Trump, a fellow populist, after the US presidential election in November, although his anti-US rhetoric continued.


Half of Aquarius migrants ‘seek asylum in France’: Spanish govt

Updated 32 min 48 sec ago
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Half of Aquarius migrants ‘seek asylum in France’: Spanish govt

MADRID: Almost half of the 630 migrants that were rescued from the Mediterranean and arrived in Spain’s port of Valencia at the weekend want to seek asylum in France, the Spanish government said Monday.
The migrants arrived in Spain on Sunday in three vessels, including the rescue ship Aquarius, after being turned away by Italy and Malta last week.
“Almost half the migrants have shown their willingness to seek asylum in France, which offered to welcome some of the people traveling on the ship,” Spain’s new socialist government said in a statement.
The majority of the 630 migrants are from Africa, including 450 men and 80 women, of which at least seven are pregnant, as well as 89 adolescents and 11 children under the age of 13, according to the Valencia authorities.
The Aquarius, run by French charity SOS Mediterranee, rescued them off Libya’s coast on June 9 and Italy and Malta’s refusal to let the ship dock led to an international outcry before Spain stepped in to help.
Madrid on Saturday said it had accepted an offer from France — who had angered Rome by branding it irresponsible — to welcome Aquarius migrants who “meet the criteria for asylum.”
France will examine asylum requests from Aquarius migrants who want to come over from Spain on a “case-by-case basis,” government spokesman Benjamin Griveaux said Sunday, adding it was “impossible” to know how many will arrive.


Pascal Brice, director-general of France’s refugee protection office Ofpra, told AFP that one of his teams would travel to Valencia soon.
“As soon as the Spanish authorities have informed us of the number of people concerned, a team from Ofpra will go on site to conduct the interviews and ensure that people are covered by the right to asylum,” he said, adding that the process should take place this week.
Local leaders on the French island of Corsica had offered to welcome the Aquarius, but the move was slapped down by the central government, which argued that under international law the ship had to dock at the closest port.
A majority of the French public, 56 percent, back the government’s decision, an opinion poll released Monday showed.
In Spain the migrants were granted authorization to remain in the country for 45 days while each individual’s legal case is studied.
Those who file a demand for asylum will be able to stay in the country while immigration services consider their request, a process that takes up to six months, said Paloma Favieres of the Spanish Commission for Refugees (CEAR).