US rights group hits DOJ for stopping Davao Death Squad probe
An US-based human rights group on Sunday denounced the decision of the Department of Justice to end its investigation into the Davao Death Squad (DDS), saying it is a “disturbing” failure to address extrajudicial killings across the Philippines allegedly linked to the government.
“The decision sends a chilling message that those responsible for targeted killings don’t need to fear about being punished for their egregious crimes,” Phelim Kine, deputy director for Asia division of the Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed statement on Sunday.
The DDS is a vigilante group believed to be behind summary executions in Davao City. Reports say the victims totaled 1,424 from 1998 to 2015.
Human Rights Watch reported that in 2009 and 2014 it investigated some of the murders — including of children as young as 14 — by death squads in Davao City, Tagum City and elsewhere in the Philippines.
It said it had uncovered compelling evidence that officials and police were directly involved in those crimes.
Acting Justice Secretary Emmanuel Caparas, however, had announced that the government was at a dead end in its investigation on the DDS, citing the lack of evidence.
In an interview last week, former Justice Secretary and Senator-elect Leila de Lima said it was difficult for the government to find first-hand witnesses.
“There were stories and accounts but no one is willing to execute sworn statements so how will you proceed without sworn statements?” De Lima told the Inquirer.
Kine urged the Philippine government to reopen its investigation into the death squad, saying it had obligations under Philippine and international law to bring to justice those responsible for the DDS, the Tagum Death Squad, and other groups operating similarly.
“They have no place in a rights-respecting democratic society,” Kine said.
“Law enforcement officials have a duty to uphold the law and they should demonstrate their determination to do so,” Kine said./rga