On the 2nd August 2016, more than 350 civil society organisations from across the globe signed an open letter to the heads of the UN drug control authorities calling on them to urge the government of the Philippines to bring an end to the flood of extrajudicial killings taking place in its territory. Since 10th May, over 700 suspected drug offenders have died at the hands of Filipino police and vigilante groups. President Duterte has explicitly ordered citizens to kill ‘drug addicts’. UN drug control bodies had hitherto remained silent in the face of these atrocities, which have also taken place – albeit on a smaller scale – in Indonesia, where 14 suspected drug offenders were executed last year, and several were killed by firing squad in the past week.

Following the open letter from civil society, which included the support of many prominent drug control and human rights groups, the INCB and the UNODC were quick to act. Mr Werner Sipp, President of the INCB, has published a powerful statement addressed to the government of the Philippines, and has been supported in a similar publication by the Executive Director of UNODC, Mr Yury Fedotov. In its most outspoken criticism of repressive drug policy to date, the INCB declared that, should media reports regarding violence and murder against drug offenders in the Philippines prove accurate, ‘this would constitute a serious breach of the legal obligations to which the Philippines is held by the three UN drug control conventions and by the corpus of international legal instruments to which the country has adhered’.

Referring to the conventions and their commitment to due legal process for all drug offenders and alternatives to punishments for people who use drugs, Mr Sipp then called on the government of the Philippines to ‘issue an immediate and unequivocal condemnation and denunciation of extrajudicial actions against individuals suspected of involvement in the illicit drug trade or of drug use’.

It should be noted again that this represents an unprecedented intervention by the INCB in cases where countries have contravened international law under the guise of drug control and, should it continue, bodes well for the future of the UN drug control authorities.

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Thumbnail: Flickr CC Prachatai