“This should also serve as a warning to the current regime for essentially continuing Duterte’s policies on the drug war.”
By ANNE MARXZE D. UMIL
(UPDATED: Jan. 28, 2023; 12:41 p.m.) MANILA – Rights groups welcomed the resumption of the International Criminal Court’s investigation of drug-related killings in the Philippines.
On Thursday, the Pre-Trial Chamber I announced that it has authorized ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to resume the investigation of drug-related killings in the country.
“That is welcome news. We hope that the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber pursues investigation until former President Rodrigo Duterte is convicted and punished for the deaths of thousands in his regime’s bloody anti-drug war,” Karapatan’s Secretary General Cristina Palabay said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson also said in a statement that the ICC investigation “is the only credible avenue for justice for the victims and their families of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs.’”
“As the court’s judges agreed, Philippine authorities are not ‘undertaking relevant investigations’ into these crimes or ‘making a real or genuine effort’ to carry these investigations out. The ICC offers a path forward to fill the accountability vacuum,” he added.
According to the Pre-Trial Chamber I, after a careful analysis of the materials provided, the Chamber is “not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the Court’s investigations on the basis of the complementarity principle.”
The Chamber has examined the submissions and materials of the Philippine government including the ICC prosecutor and the victims’ observations and has concluded that “the various domestic initiatives and proceedings, assessed collectively, do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation.”
The Chamber added that in instances where investigative steps have been taken or are ongoing, albeit low-ranking law enforcement personnel, “it remains that the totality of the national investigations and proceedings presented to the Chamber do not sufficiently, or at all, mirror, the Court’s investigation.”
In a statement, Neri Colmenares, of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, counsel for the victims, said that the Pre-Trial Chamber has rightly emphasized that the government’s overall initiative is not equivalent with the scope of the ICC’s investigation and does not reflect a sincere intention to give justice.
Colmenares reiterated that the victims’ families under the Rise Up for Life and for Rights will cooperate with the ICC because this is an opportunity for them to get justice.
They also demand that the administration of Ferdinand Marcos Jr. would allow the ICC prosecutors to enter the Philippines to conduct an investigation, as well as order the return of the Philippines to the ICC.
“We also appeal to the police, agents, assets, or persons who knew the system and the intersectionalities of the directives to come forward and testify against the ultimate culprit,” Colmenares added.
Meanwhile, the Philippine government maintains that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the country.
It was in March 2018 that the Philippine Government formally withdrew from the Rome Statute. But according to the Chamber, the ICC retains jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes that occurred on the Philippines while it was a State Party of the Statute.
The Philippines has been a State party to the Rome Statute since November 2011 until its withdrawal in 2018.
This is why families, with the help of rights-based groups and human rights lawyers, decided to continue filing complaints before the ICC.
Read: Why kin of drug war victims charged Duterte for mass murder before ICC
Read: Kin of drug-related killings file more evidence vs Duterte before ICC
In June 2021, then outgoing ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she has requested judicial authorization to look into the killings, particularly those that happened between July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019 and the Davao Death Squad.
The Philippine government, on the other hand, made a deferral request and asserted that the government is looking into the alleged cases of drug-related killings. It cited, in particular, the 52 cases of deaths in the course of Duterte’s so-called war on drugs.
Khan has temporarily suspended the probe but in September 2022, he requested the Pre-Trial Chamber to order the resumption of the investigation. For one, Khan said that that the Philippine government has not demonstrated that it has conducted or is conducting investigations or prosecution on the drug-related killings.
Read: ICC finds no basis on PH govt’s arguments, reiterates probe on drug-related killings
Palabay said the resumption of ICC’s investigation, “should also serve as a warning to the current regime for essentially continuing Duterte’s policies on the drug war.”
“With the help of international mechanisms provided by bodies like the ICC, we can make a dent on the culture of impunity that has stymied the quest for justice for so long,” she added.
Palabay also added that this recent view of the ICC should strongly spur an independent investigation by the UN Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in the Philippines.(RTS, RVO)