Duterte can’t evade justice, rights advocates say on possible ICC drug war probe
MANILA, Philippines — President Rodrigo Duterte cannot dodge responsibility for his administration’s bloody drug war.
This was the reaction of some activists and rights advocates on Tuesday to the request of prosecutor Fatou Bensouda of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to be allowed to investigate the crimes against humanity case filed against Duterte.
“This may send shockwaves to enablers of this bloody campaign, but, to the relatives and family of the victims, to human rights advocates, we welcome this positive development and laud the painstaking manner by which the ICC Prosecutor found credence to the complaints and the pieces of evidence that the families of extra-judicial killings have presented,” Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Zarate said in a statement.
“The Duterte administration may deny to high heavens the blatant violations of human rights committed in its bloody campaign against drugs; it may co-opt and subvert domestic processes and mechanism, but, eventually, it cannot escape from the long arms of justice. The international community is also closely watching, too, and we are certain that justice will be served soon,” he added.
Renato Reyes, the secretary-general of the Bagong Alyansang Makabayan (Bayan), had a similar reaction, saying: “Justice has been a long time coming for the thousands of victims (of) extrajudicial killings in the Philippines under Duterte. Leaving the ICC will not prevent the process of accountability from proceeding.”
“The Duterte regime thinks it can avoid liability by withdrawing from the Rome Statute, when it is clear that the ICC retains jurisdiction for crimes committed prior to the withdrawal. The Duterte regime would like us to believe it is a victim of political persecution when the real victims here are the thousands who died at the hands of police and military forces,” Reyes added.
In a statement posted on Monday at the ICC website, Bensouda said there was a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the implementation of the drug war, which resulted in the death of thousands of suspects.
In reaction, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said the Duterte administration would not cooperate with the ICC in any probe it would initiate because the Philippines had already withdrawn from the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC. Therefore, it no longer had jurisdiction over the country.
In the ICC statement, Bensouda insisted, however, that the ICC still had jurisdiction over the Philippines as the complaint was filed before its withdrawal and the alleged crimes also occurred while the country was still part of the Rome Statute.
She said that there was a case similar to the Philippines’ involving the Republic of Burundi, where investigations continued despite its withdrawal from the Rome Statute.
For its part, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) said the development should serve as a signal for the United Nations Human Rights Council — which previously held back on a full-blown probe of the Philippines’ rights situation — to dig deeper.
“ICHRP sees this announcement as a positive step that may help bring some measure of justice to the thousands victimized and terrorized by the Duterte Regime’s so-called ‘war on drugs.’ Justice may also come to those who are victimized by the Duterte government’s war on Islamic communities and war on dissent,” ICHRP spokesperson Peter Murphy said.
“The United Nations Human Rights Council must now initiate a long-overdue independent investigation into the Philippines to examine crimes under international law and other serious violations of human rights committed over the full duration of the Duterte administration, including its so-called war on drugs. The perpetrators and architects of these crimes must be held to account,” he added.
The complaint against Duterte before was filed before the ICC by the Rise Up for Life and Rights, which is composed of drug war victims’ relatives and rights advocates.
According to the group, Duterte violated Article 7 of the Rome Statute for “widespread and systematic attacks in the form of murder of thousands of civilians.”
Then in December 2020, ICC said that it had a reasonable basis to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the drug war.
Duterte has consistently denied that there were irregularities, including extrajudicial killings, in the conduct of the drug war. In one briefing, he blamed the deaths on warring drug syndicates.
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