Last week, Drug Policy Alliance Board Member and Columbia neuroscientist Dr. Carl Hart left the Philippines after having been directly targeted by Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte. Since last May, Duterte has waged a brutal war on people who use or sell drugs, which has led to the deaths of over 7,000 people, mostly from marginalized and vulnerable communities.
Dr. Hart was visiting the Philippines to speak at a drug policy forum hosted at the University of the Philippines. The convening brought together drug policy experts and civil society activists, and was attended by Agnes Callamard, United Nations Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions.
At the forum, Callamard asserted that the war on drugs has been a failure and Hart called into question the false drug science being espoused by the Philippine authorities. In response,The Manila Times published a racist cartoon about Dr. Hart and President Duterte made disparaging and insulting remarks about both Callamard and Hart, calling Hart a “son of a b**** who has gone crazy.”
Within the last year of his presidency, Duterte has responded to anyone who has questioned his anti-drug strategy with insults, including former President Obama, the Pope, the International Criminal Court and the United Nations. Last November, Duterte threatened to kill human rights defenders who attempt to intervene in his war on drugs.
Earlier this month, U.S. President Trump called Duterte and invited him to the White House, praising Duterte’s drug war efforts. In the same week, a bipartisan Senate bill was introduced to rein in U.S. support of the Philippines’ drug war, which places restrictions on defense aid to the country, provides additional funding for the Filipino human rights community, and supports a public health approach to drug use.
Statement by Ira Glasser, President of the Board of the Drug Policy Alliance:
“The Drug Policy Alliance condemns President Rodrigo Duterte for his implied threats against our board member, Dr. Carl Hart, the world-renowned neuroscientist who chairs Columbia University’s Department of Psychology. In light of the Duterte regime’s murderous history, such targeted statements cannot be taken lightly, or dismissed as rhetoric.
“Dr. Hart, a leading scholar in the field of drugs and addiction and a drug policy reform advocate, had been invited to present at the University of the Philippines in Manila, where he challenged Duterte’s brutal drug war, which has led to at least 7,000 extrajudicial killings of primarily marginalized people. Over the course of his presidency, Duterte has made chilling threats to human rights defenders in the Philippines, vowing to kill them if they attempt to intervene in his war on drugs.
“We call upon President Trump to denounce Duterte’s threat in the strongest possible terms, and to make it unambivalently clear that such threats against the academic freedom of a renowned scholar will not be tolerated, and are incompatible with any normal relationship between our countries. We also call upon President Trump to publicly denounce Duterte’s murderous drug war and to call for immediate end to the extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.”