Philippine President Accused of Having Ordered Extra-Judicial Killings During Time as Mayor

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

MANILA, Philippines– A retired Philippine police officer has confessed to leading a death squad on the direct orders of Rodrigo Duterte, before he became president. The retired police officer, Arthur Lascañas, spoke at a news conference on February 20. Mr. Lascañas alleges that President Duterte had personally ordered extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor of Davao. Mr. Lascañas is the second person to speak out against President Duterte. Last year, Edgar Matobato made similar claims to have received orders from Durterte to commit extrajudicial killings during his time as mayor.

Arthur Lascañas speaks at a news conference alleging that he led a death squad under direct orders of Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte when he was mayor of Davao City. Photo courtesy of: Associated Press.

These accusations come only weeks after President Duterte was accused of sponsoring extrajudicial killings in his own state-sponsored war on drugs. In early 2017, Amnesty International warned that the Philippine police are “systematically planning” such killings against criminals and drug suspects.

The recent accusations against Duterte claim that the former mayor established groups of hit-men to find and kill small-time drug dealers and petty criminals. Mr. Lascañas explained that members of these groups were paid between $400 and $1,000 for the killings, a price dependent on the status of the individuals murdered. Mr. Lascañas said that the groups received allowances for these efforts directly from Duterte’s office as mayor. Eventually, the groups were encouraged to kill not only drug offenders and criminals, but any individual critical of Duterte’s rule.

Mr. Lascañas confirmed earlier statements by Mr. Matobato which claimed that Duterte called for the murder of Jun Pala, who was gunned down near his home in 2003. Jun Pala was a radio commentator who was famously critical of Duterte during his time as mayor of Davao.

Philippine Senator Leila de Lima, a staunch critic of Duterte, urged the country’s Cabinet to declare their president unfit to rule, describing him as a “sociopathic serial killer”. De Lima is now facing arrest on charges that she was involved in the drug trade, accusations which she says were master-minded as a result of her leading an investigation of the recent allegations against Duterte during his time as mayor.

For more information, please see:

New York Times – Ex-Officer in Philippines Says He Led Death Squad at Duterte’s Behest – 20 February, 2017

Reuters – Philippine senator urges Cabinet to stop ‘sociopathic serial killer’ Duterte – 21 February, 2017

Japan Times – Ex-cop says Duterte, while Davao mayor, paid him and others to kill crime suspects – 20 February, 2017

CNN – Former Davao Death Squad leader: Duterte ordered bombings – 20 February, 2017

U.S. Supreme Court Takes up Case of Mexican Border Shooting

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, North America

WASHINGTON D.C., United States — On February 21, the United States Supreme Court took up the 2010 case of an unarmed 15-year old Mexican national who was shot and killed by U.S. Border Patrol agent Jesus Mesa at the border between Mexico and the U.S.  The shooting was recorded on a cell phone video.

Some of Sergio Hernandez’s relatives visit the Ciudad Juarez area of the U.S.-Mexico border on the anniversary of his death in 2012 (Photo Courtesy of NPR).

The facts of the shooting are in dispute.  The family of Sergio Hernandez, the deceased, claims that their son was playing with his friends along the Mexican border near El Paso, Texas.  The U.S. government, however, claims that the shooting occurred while “smugglers” attempted to cross the border illegally, and were throwing rocks at Mesa.

Hernandez’s family is suing Mesa for violating Hernandez’s constitutional rights.  They were denied legal recourse in the lower courts, who ruled that the boy lacked constitutional protection inside Mexico.  Bob Hilliard, the lawyer representing the family, spoke of a press release issued by the FBI’s El Paso office, and said that “the statement literally says [Mesa] was surrounded by these boys, which is just objectively false” and that the video footage clearly shows there was no one surrounding Mesa at the time of the shooting.

Mesa maintains that he shot the boy in self-defense after being surround by the teenagers throwing rocks.  Mesa’s lawyers claim that this scenario will come to light via video footage from other cameras on the scene that have not yet been released to the public.

At the oral argument for the case, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated that the case “has, as far as the conduct is concerned, United States written all over it” and cited the actions of Mesa, who was in El Paso when he shot Hernandez.  Justice Sonia Sotomayor suggested there should be some type of civil remedy available for the family.

The court’s more conservative justices, however, claim that no constitutional claim has been allowed against a federal official for about 30 years.  The justices warned against creating such a claim that would lead to other similar claims made by foreign nationals outside of the U.S.

The question in front of the Supreme Court is whether or not the Hernandez family has the right to sue.


For more information, please see:

ABC — Supreme Court Hearing Case of Teen Shot Dead in Mexico by Border Agent in US — 21 February 2017

CNN — US Border Patrol Shooting of Mexican National goes to Supreme Court — 21 February 2017

NPR — Supreme Court to Decide if Mexican Nationals May Sue for Border Shooting — 21 February 2017

USA Today — Supreme Court Divided Over U.S.-Mexico Border Shooting — 21 February 2017

The Gambia Rejoins the ICC

By Samantha Netzband 

Impunity Watch, Africa Desk Reporter

BANJUL, The Gambia–The Gambia has committed to rejoining the International Criminal Court.  The country formally recanted its original withdrawal from the International Criminal Court in a letter to the United Nations on February 10, 2017.  This decision comes after the inauguration of newly elected President Adama Barrow.

Judges at the International Criminal Court.  (Photo Courtesy of ENCA)

The Gambia’s recant of withdrawal leaves two African countries as outliers who are still pursuing withdrawal from the International Criminal Court.  Burundi and South Africa are still hoping to withdrawal from the court.  Both countries have unique reasons why they are trying to withdraw from the court, but one critique of the court has been that only African leaders have been held accountable through the courts justice mechanisms.  However, many of the individuals who have been held accountable were self referrals to the court from their country of origin.

The Gambia’s withdrawal has quelled concerns regarding the uncertainty of the International Criminal Court.  While there has been criticism of the courts jurisdiction, overall the court is the only of its kind that holds people accountable for international crimes.  Secretary General Antonio Guterres applauded the Gambia’s decision to stay: ‘‘The Secretary-General welcomes that The Gambia will remain a State Party to the International Criminal Court’s founding instrument, and remains confident that States Parties will continue to further strengthen the Court through a constructive dialogue.’‘  Clément Capo-Chichi, the Africa Coordinator for the Coalition for the ICC (CICC), a global NGO network, said the “decision to reverse withdrawal from the ICC is a crucial development for victims of grave crimes and the rule of law”.  For now the Gambia has helped quell fears of a collapse of the International Criminal Court, but whether or not this stability will continue remains to be seen.

For more information, please see: 

Africa News – ICC exit: UN chief hails The Gambia’s decision to stay – 17 February 2017

ENCA – Gambia to stay in ICC – 17 February 2017

Human Rights Watch – Gambia Rejoins ICC – 17 February 2017

News Ghana – Gov’t of Gambia to Rescind Decision to Live ICC – 17 February 2017

Japan Accepted 28 Refugees in 2016

By: Nicole Hoerold
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia 

TOKYO, Japan- Japan is receiving criticism after its government released documentation of having accepted only 28 refugees in 2016. This number is especially staggering given the total number of asylum applications received by Japan last year. 10,901 people sought asylum in Japan in 2016, up 44 percent from 2015, when the country accepted 27 individuals. In 2016, alongside the 28 refugees, Japan accepted another 97 applicants for “humanitarian reasons”, though they are not officially recognized by the government as asylum seekers.

A protestor joins in the rallies to call for more visa grants in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of: Reuters.
A protestor joins in the rallies to call for more visa grants in Tokyo. Photo courtesy of: Reuters.

Human Rights Watch called Japan’s efforts in granting asylum “abysmal”, urging the country to accept more applicants and further their human rights interests. The low acceptance rate of refugees is negligible in contrast to Europe’s influx in the past two years. Though refugee advocates and human rights organizations are criticizing Japan for their reluctance to welcome more refugees, the country has made efforts contribute to the cause.

Between January and September 2016, Japan was the fourth largest donor to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, contributing $165 billion. Japan has also said it will accept 150 Syrian students and their families under a scholarship program. Critics, however, urge that Japan’s current contributions are not enough in a world where forced migration has become so prevalent.

Immigration is a controversial topic in Japan. The country prides itself on cultural and ethnic homogeneity. Despite the Japan’s aging workforce and shrinking population, it has refused to accept a large influx of unskilled workers. Though forced migration continues, Japan has yet to take a clear political stance on its intentions regarding the issue.

For more information, please see:

Reuters – Japan took in just 28 refugees in 2016, despite record applications – 9 February, 2017

Open Democracy – Japan must learn to see refugees not as ‘useful’ subjects, but human beings – 15 February, 2017

The Japan Times – Record 10,910 refugee applicants face abysmal odds of acceptance in Japan – 10 February, 2017 

New Daily – Why Japan accepts a staggeringly low number of refugees – 16 February, 2017

Hundreds of Migrants Storm Fence to Enter Spanish Territory

By Sarah Lafen

Impunity Watch Desk Reporter, Europe

MADRID, Spain — On February 17, about 700 migrants stormed an 8 kilometer long, 6 meter high barbed-wire security fence separating Morocco from Ceuta, which is a Spanish territory in North Africa.  Security cameras filming the incident showed some migrants breaking through the fence using wielding shears and clubs.

Migrants sit aside Spanish police after storming a fence to enter the Spanish territory of Ceuta (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)
Migrants sit aside Spanish police after storming a fence to enter the Spanish territory of Ceuta (Photo Courtesy of The Washington Post)

498 migrants successfully made it onto Spanish territory.  Those that successfully scale the fence are usually taken to migrant centers where they are repatriated or released, with the majority choosing to seek asylum or work undocumented in Europe.  Those that are intercepted before making it onto Spanish territory are usually returned to Morocco.

Two migrants were hospitalized as a result of the invasion, 30 were treated at a migrant center for fractures and other injuries, 10 members of Morocco’s armed forces were injured, and 11 police officers were injured.  In the video footage, some migrants can be seen with blood on their faces.

The border invasion was one of the largest since the fence was built in 2005.  According to an unidentified Civil Guard spokesman, police officers clashed with the migrants at the Tarajal section of the fence.  The last similar attempt took place on New Year’s Day 2017, when over 1,000 migrants attempted to jump a fence between Morocco and Ceuta.  Only two of those migrants were successful in reaching the Spanish territory, however both required hospital treatment.  Other recent successful attempts were made by 400 migrants in December, and by 200 migrants in October.

The video footage of the invasion captured migrants celebrating their arrival onto Spanish territory.  Some screamed “Libertad, libertad!” while others wrapped themselves in Spanish and European flags.  One migrant was heard shouting “I love you Mamma, long live Spain.”

Hundreds of migrants regularly attempt to enter Ceuta via climbing the fence, swimming along the coast, or hiding in vehicles.  Many consider reaching the Spanish territory as safer than attempting to cross the Mediterranean Sea.  These migrants are hopeful in eventually reaching Europe and fleeing poverty and violence.  The migrant center in Ceuta has recently been struggling to host over 600 migrants, and has been using military tents as makeshift shelters for migrants in nearby parking lots.


For more information, please see:

BBC — Hundreds of Migrants Storm Fence to Reach Spanish Enclave of Ceuta — 17 February 2017

DW — Hundreds of Migrants Storm Spain’s Ceuta, Clashing with Police — 17 February 2017

The Local — Hundreds of Migrants Storm Fence to Enter Spain from Morocco — 17 February 2017

The Washington Post — Almost 500 Migrants Smash Through Border Fence into Spain — 17 February 2017