As Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's deadly "war on drugs"—which U.S. President Donald Trump has praised as an "unbelievable" success—has continued to intensify in recent days with at least 60 people killed this week, Duterte raised further alarm on Wednesday by suggesting that human rights activists attempting to document the possible crimes of his administration should be shot.
"Duterte should retract his reprehensible remarks immediately before there is more blood on his hands."
—Phelim Kine, Human Rights Watch
"If they are obstructing justice, you shoot them," Duterte said, apparently addressing the police.
The Philippine president also appeared to level threats against his country's Commission on Human Rights, which he has previously said he would like to abolish.
"The human rights groups are now investigating. One of these days, you human rights groups, I will also investigate you. That's the truth. For conspiracy."
Duterte's remarks immediately drew sharp rebukes from human rights groups that have for months been tracking his vicious drug crackdown.
In a statement on Thursday, Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared that "Duterte should immediately withdraw his statement or be investigated for possibly instigating or inciting violence against Philippine human rights advocates."
"President Duterte's threats against human rights activists is like painting a target on the backs of courageous people working to protect the rights and upholding the dignity of all Filipinos," said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at HRW. "Duterte should retract his reprehensible remarks immediately before there is more blood on his hands."
On Monday, police raids resulted in 32 deaths in Bulacan province, located just outside Manila, the nation's capital. Further raids on Wednesday in Manila claimed the lives of 28 more.
"Together," notes Reuters' Manuel Mogato, these two nights "mark the deadliest period of a drugs-focused crackdown that has killed thousands of Filipinos, and caused international alarm, since Duterte took office over a year ago."
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Far from repudiating the surge in police killings and extrajudicial murders stemming from his "drug war"—which HRW has called a "human rights calamity"—Duterte has enthusiastically celebrated them, and called for more bloodshed.
"Those who died in Bulacan, 32, in a massive raid, that's good," Duterte said, referring to Monday's raid. "If we can kill another 32 every day, then maybe we can reduce what ails this country."
"These shocking deaths are a reminder that President Duterte's lawless 'war on drugs' continues unabated and actually appears to be plumbing new depths of barbarity."
—James Gomez, Amnesty International
While Duterte has faced forceful and growing criticism from the international community, a few notable countries have largely abstained from criticizing the Philippine president.
Trump, though, has gone further than merely remaining silent about Duterte's "bloody reign."
During a phone conversation in April, Trump called Duterte a "great man" and urged him to "[k]eep up the good work."
James Gomez, Amnesty International's director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, argued in a statement on Wednesday that all of these factors—surging deaths, Duterte's promises to continue intensifying his deadly campaign, and dwindling pressure from major world powers—highlight "the urgent need for a UN-led international investigation into his drug-war slaughter."
"These shocking deaths are a reminder that President Duterte's lawless 'war on drugs' continues unabated and actually appears to be plumbing new depths of barbarity," Gomez said in a statement on Wednesday.
Unless an investigation begins immediately, Gomez concluded, "there is seemingly no end in sight to these killings."