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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, on securing this short debate. When President Duterte took office, it was on the back of a campaign in which, as the noble Lord said, he swore to launch a war on the drugs and violence which threatened the stability of the state—but what followed was the use of policies that are contrary to human rights.
The Foreign Office says that in his first year in office Duterte launched a controversial anti-drugs campaign with a call to citizens and the police to conduct extrajudicial killings of suspects. Earlier this month Human Rights Watch reported that, according to the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency, nearly 5,000 suspected drug users and dealers died during police operations from July 2016 to September 2018—but that does not include the thousands of others who have been killed by unidentified gunmen. Masked gunmen appear to be taking part in killings, working closely with the police, casting doubt on government claims that most killings have been committed by vigilantes or drug gangs.
Police have killed dozens of children since the start of the war on drugs—deaths which the President has dismissed as merely “collateral damage”. Children’s rights are being undermined. I shall give two examples. In June last year the PDEA announced that it was seeking to impose annual unannounced drug screening tests on teachers and on children from the age of 10. However, imposing drug testing on schoolchildren when the Philippine police are routinely killing alleged drug users endangers children should they fail that drug test. Mandatory testing may not only infringe their human rights but deter them from attending school for reasons entirely unrelated to any drug use. Street-connected children are especially at risk. I have learned more about this as one of the co-chairs of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Street Children.
The second matter of concern is the plan to reduce the age of criminal responsibility from 15 to 12. Over the past week, the Philippine Congress agreed to this provision in a Bill that amends the juvenile justice law, despite previously saying that it would not do so. Originally, it approved a reduction to nine years of age, but that was amended just yesterday to 12 and is likely to become law fairly very soon. Such a change, while not as damaging as reducing the age to nine, would still be a step backwards in terms of human rights in the Philippines. I am fully aware that we have questions in this country, as well as in Scotland and Northern Ireland, about our own age of criminal responsibility.
I am not naive about the role that can be played by children in drug trafficking and violence when they have been manipulated by the barons of the drug gangs. However, the policies used by the President are simply not the solution. The answers lie in policies to protect children, support social cohesion and tackle the adult offenders who trap children in a life of crime.
The work of NGOs such as Bahay Tuluyan, which aims to improve government agency rescue practices for street children, is important. I also congratulate our embassy in Manila on raising concerns on such issues with the Philippine Government. But will the UK Government raise the treatment of street-connected children as a human rights concern at the next meeting of the Human Rights Council in Geneva in March? Given the clear human rights violations already involved in extrajudicial killings and the disregard already displayed for the human rights of children, will the Government now consider making the Philippines a “country of concern” in this year’s annual report?