HomeNewsRights groups welcome probe by International Criminal Court into Philippine killings

Rights groups welcome probe by International Criminal Court into Philippine killings

Fatou Bensouda, ICC chief prosecutor, said “crimes against humanity” could have been committed in the Philippines

Human rights groups welcomed the decision of the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to request for a full investigation into drug-related killings in the Philippines.

Fatou Bensouda, ICC chief prosecutor, said in a statement on Monday, June 14, that “crimes against humanity” could have been committed in the country since 2016 with the implementation of the government’s “war on drugs.”

“I announce that the preliminary examination into the situation in the Republic of the Philippines has concluded,” said Bensouda.

“I have requested judicial authorization to proceed with an (formal criminal) investigation,” she added.

In December, Bensouda said there was a “reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder, torture (…) and other inhumane acts were committed” between 2016 and 2019.

“The available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians,” she said.

Reacting to the announcement, the Philippines’ Commission on Human Rights urged the government to participate in the “process of seeking truth and justice for the human rights violations committed in the country.”

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It said the administration of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte needs “to demonstrate genuine openness, transparency, and cooperation in its engagement with human rights investigation and accountability mechanisms.”

The human rights body said that despite the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute, “the ICC retains jurisdiction over the Philippine territory during the period it was a State Party from 01 November 2011 up to 16 March 2019.”

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is the treaty that established the International Criminal Court. It was adopted at a diplomatic conference in Rome, Italy on July 17, 1998, and it entered into force on July 1, 2002.

The Philippines ratified the Rome Statute on August 30, 2011, and it entered into force from Nov. 1, 2011.

The Philippines officially withdrew from the ICC on March 17, 2019, a year after Duterte publicly announced the nation’s withdrawal. The withdrawal was triggered by ICC’s initiation of the investigation into the “war on drugs” in the Philippines.

Human rights groups claim that at least 30,000 suspected drug users and peddlers have been killed in the Philippine government’s “war” against narcotics. (Photo by Patricia Leuterio)

Duterte to ignore probe

On Tuesday, June 15, Duterte’s spokesman said the president will not cooperate with the planned investigation by the ICC prosecutor.

“We will not cooperate because we are no longer a member,” said spokesman Harry Roque.

“We do not need foreigners to investigate killings in the drug war because the legal system is working in the Philippines,” Roque said.

He said launching a formal probe was “legally erroneous and politically motivated.”

In an address recorded this week before the news of Bensouda’s request broke, Duterte called on human rights organizations to take a closer look into his “war on drugs.”

“You would notice that there are really persons who die almost daily because they fought back,” he said, warning drug dealers: “Do not destroy the country. I will kill you.”

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Tuesday said the request of Bensouda would not affect the Justice Department’s ongoing review on deaths of suspected drug pushers.

“As far as the [Justice department] is concerned, such development has absolutely no effect on the ongoing work of the review panel on drug deaths, as well as on the Philippines-UN joint program on technical cooperation on human rights,” said Guevarra.

President Rodrigo Duterte addresses the nation on August 17, 2020. (Photo courtesy of the Presidential Communications Office)

Step closer to justice

Human Rights Watch said a full investigation into the alleged crimes would end Duterte’s “presumption of impunity.”

“If approved, it could bring victims and survivors closer to seeing those responsible for their suffering finally brought to justice,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director of Human Rights Watch.

Amnesty International described Bensouda’s move as “a landmark step which brings justice closer for thousands of bereaved families.”

“This is a much-awaited step in putting murderous incitement by President Duterte and his administration to an end,” said Agnès Callamard, Amnesty International’s secretary general.

“This announcement is a moment of hope for thousands of families in the Philippines who are grieving those lost to the government’s so-called ‘war on drugs,’” she added.

Callamard said “the ICC investigation is a crucial step for justice to move forward.”

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates described the decision as a “notch against structural impunity and an incremental triumph for all victims of mass state-sponsored killings.”

“Our hopes are high that … a day of reckoning will come for the perpetrators of the tens of thousands who were intentionally and systematically killed as a result of the Philippine drug war,” read the group’s statement.

Human rights group Karapatan said the ICC prosecutor’s decision is “a long-awaited step towards justice and accountability.”

“It is yet another damning indictment of the Duterte government’s murderous policies that have killed — and continue to kill — thousands of Filipinos with impunity,” read a Karapatan statement.

Normita Lopez, mother of a teenager who was killed in the Philippine government ‘war’ on drugs, continues to search for justice for her son. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

Victims of Duterte’s ‘drug war’

Philippine officials claimed that security forces have killed 6,117 drug dealers in sting operations conducted from 2016, when Duterte took office, until the end of April this year.

Human rights groups, however, said authorities have summarily executed more drug suspects who have been accused of fighting back arresting officers.

Bensouda’s report said many people killed in the anti-illegal drugs crackdown had been on a watch list compiled by authorities or had previously surrendered to police.

Human rights groups have accused Duterte of inciting deadly violence and said police have murdered unarmed suspects and staged crime scenes on a massive scale.

Police denied this and Duterte has insisted he told police to kill only in self defense.

Under the ICC statute, the prosecutor must ask judges for permission to open an official investigation into alleged crimes.

The tribunal’s judges have up to four months to issue a decision on such a request.

In March 2018, Duterte canceled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty just weeks after Bensouda announced the preliminary examination was under way.

The Philippine president said the ICC was prejudiced against him.

Under the ICC’s withdrawal mechanism the court keeps jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of a state, in this case between 2016 and 2019 when the Philippines’ pullout became official. – with a report from Reuters

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