President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines defiantly rebuked human rights groups and international organizations on Tuesday, pledging to continue his deadly antidrug crackdown despite mounting calls for a criminal investigation into his actions.
“Human rights, United Nations, that’s fine. If you have complaints, O.K. You want to file charges, fine. Look for evidence,” Mr. Duterte told a gathering of mayors in Manila, the capital.
“But still, I will kill you,” he warned the criminals and drug users who have been the focus of his crackdown.
The president spoke just weeks after a retired police officer said he would be willing to testify in domestic and international courts that Mr. Duterte had ordered him and other hired hit men to routinely carry out killings when Mr. Duterte was mayor of Davao.
Mr. Duterte said his tough anti-crime stance was “the only formula that worked in my city” of Davao, and voters across the country elected him last year by a wide margin to replicate that policy nationwide.
“And human rights groups have been after me for a long time. They say my mouth encourages the police” to take the law in their own hands, he said. “But now, I have included the military because drugs have become a threat to national security.”
Last week, Mr. Duterte signed an executive order that revived his antidrug crackdown. It was temporarily suspended when rogue police officers were implicated in the murder of a Korean national whom they had kidnapped and accused of being a drug dealer.
That order created the Interagency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs, which reports directly to the president and is backed by the military.
Two men, Arthur Lascanas, a former Davao City police officer, and Edgar Matobato, a self-described hit man, have said they were members of a “death squad” led by Mr. Duterte that targeted petty criminals, drug traffickers and political opponents.
Their lawyer, Jude Josue Sabio, said both men’s statements were tantamount to accusations of “crimes against humanity” and they would take their case to the International Criminal Court in The Hague by April.
“Both Matobato and Lascanas are vital witnesses to prove that the Davao death squad was used by Duterte as a template, or as a strategy or policy, for crime control through extrajudicial killings since he became president,” Mr. Sabio said in an interview.
Their accusations came after a report by Human Rights Watch, which found that the police had falsified evidence to justify unlawful killings and that the majority of those killed were poor. The report urged the United Nations to create an “independent, international investigation” into the killings.
Rommel Banlaoi, a director at the Center for Intelligence and National Security Studies, said accusations against Mr. Duterte of human rights abuses should be handled domestically.
“There is still a general support on the war against drugs, but the opposition is raising the issue of extrajudicial killings as a pretext to challenge the reign of Duterte,” Mr. Banlaoi said. “If Duterte fails to perform and the Philippine economy deteriorates to a level that hurts the stomach of the middle class, not to mention the lower class, the opposition can muster support to topple his regime.”
Mr. Duterte has said the accusations against him were attempts to destabilize his administration.
“When will I stop? When you threaten me with extrajudicial accusation? That threat has been going on since I was a mayor,” he said on Tuesday. “Just try.”
He told the police to continue their drug raids and to shoot criminals if necessary. “I have said those who are accused while in the performance of their duty, I have your back.”
If police officers who followed his orders were convicted of crimes, he said, he would pardon them.
“Then I will say, ‘Go back to the person who accused you, and kill him.’ I will pardon you,” he said.
(Felipe Villamor The New York Times contributed to this report “Human rights, United Nations, that’s fine, I still will kill criminals and drug users: Duterte says”, edited to fit the page and added additional materialand including illustrations by Alad Von Dari via VOP)