Karapatan: Did Harry Roque just admit that the Duterte gov’t is committing war crimes?

International humanitarian law does not make mass murder legal, human rights watchdog Karapatan asserted, as the group questioned Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque’s statement before the media yesterday, March 8, claiming that President Rodrigo Duterte’s “kill, kill, kill” order against communist rebels is supposedly “legal” under international humanitarian law.

“Did we hear you right, Harry Roque? Did you just admit that the government is committing war crimes? That committing war crimes is a government policy coming directly from the highest echelons of State bureaucracy? It’s a shame that a so-called human rights lawyer who has supposedly studied and taught international humanitarian law is publicly admitting — and worse justifying — war crimes and mass murder by twisting facts without even flinching,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay asked.

Palabay continued that Roque “perhaps needs a reminder that international humanitarian law exists to mitigate casualties and violence during armed conflict — and it is definitely not a free pass to just kill, kill, kill combatants and most especially civilians. Openly inciting and ordering State forces to commit mass murder is most definitely not legal under the laws of war and there is no other war to call such public pronouncements as incitement to commit war crimes.”

Last Thursday, March 4, Duterte spoke before the Regional Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in Northern Mindanao and ordered the military and the police that “if they find themselves in an armed encounter with the communist rebels, kill them, make sure you really kill them, and finish them off if they are alive” and to “don’t mind human rights” in doing so — mere days before the “Bloody Sunday” police raids throughout the Southern Tagalog region against “communist terrorist groups,” which led to the gruesome killings of nine activists, labor leaders, and community organizers.

“Through the government’s rabid red-tagging rampage, the Duterte government deliberately violates and tramples upon the principle of distinction under international humanitarian law with impunity by conflating civilian activists and their organizations as mere fronts for rebels. Human rights defenders have been and are still being publicly vilified by State forces as ‘terrorists’ before they are murdered — and State forces are still doing it now by claiming that the activists killed in the police raids last Sunday are ‘communist terrorists,’” the Karapatan official averred.

She further said that “Duterte’s brutal counterinsurgency campaign institutionalizes State terror and war crimes against the people — and the ‘Bloody Sunday’ police raids in Southern Tagalog is not merely a massacre: it is a war crime. We have known this all along but committing war crimes is clearly and undeniably a State policy especially under Duterte, admitted by none other than his own spokesman, and these war crimes are being justified through red-tagging, which now has more fangs with the draconian terror law in place.”

“Duterte and his militarist, bloodthirsty minions are war criminals, and we call on the United Nations Human Rights Council as well as the International Criminal Court to hold Duterte accountable for his crimes. We call on the public to condemn and resist the Duterte regime’s shameless attacks on peoples rights and to call for the abolition of the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict, to junk Duterte’s terror law, and to rescind all State policies and campaigns that facilitate war crimes and human rights violations,” Palabay ended.