ICC taking pulse of drug war victims’ kin: Do they want full probe of Duterte?
MANILA, Philippines — Families of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and their support groups are being asked by the International Criminal Court (ICC) whether they support a full investigation of the charge of crimes against humanity involving murder against President Duterte, according to a human rights lawyer.
Before she stepped down two weeks ago, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested the court’s pretrial chamber (PTC) to open the investigation of the allegations against Duterte.
Last week, the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) of the ICC said those concerned may file “representations” in text, photo or audio formats following a form it had published on its website that listed questions concerning alleged killings.
They may make submissions individually or collectively, it said. In addition to their own accounts of the conduct of the drug war, the victims’ families and their supporters are being asked by the VPRS whether they wanted the ICC prosecutor to investigate the charges against Mr. Duterte.
Those who answer yes are asked to explain why and what they think the investigation should include.
These are the “most important questions” from the ICC section, said human rights lawyer Kristina Conti.
“This is the time to reach out to the PTC and tell them what you support about the investigation, if you want to deepen its scope so you can find out who is really liable for crimes against humanity,” she told the Inquirer in an interview.
“The court will now be gauging whether it will be in the interest of justice in the country to proceed with the investigation,” Conti said.
“This is what the PTC needs to see. Of course, this cannot be measured by the number of people who said yes to the form.”
“Whether it be one or 1 million Filipinos saying yes … we are already confident that what we have submitted [is already sufficient to prove] Mr. Duterte’s guilty,” she added.
Conti said the “standard of evidence” at “this stage” was that the submissions were backed by reliable information, such as news reports confirming the death of a particular victim in the drug war.
“As long as you feel you have been harmed—emotionally, financially, physically harmed—you may submit your representations before the court,” Conti assured the families of other drug war victims.
The government acknowledged that around 7,000 people had been killed by the police in the drug war since Mr. Duterte took office in 2016, but local and international human rights groups said the real figure was 12,000 to 30,000, including killings by state-backed vigilantes.
The National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers and Rise Up are working on ways to assist other groups wishing to submit their own reports, said Conti.
Hard to build case
Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque shrugged off these moves.
The ICC would hardly be able to make a case against the President without the government’s cooperation, Roque said.
“The ICC can do what it wants, but you know, the whole treaty was adopted with the realization that if the state would not cooperate, it would be hard to have a case,” he said in a press briefing.
Even though a former ICC judge, who is a Filipino, said that the Philippines’ withdrawal from the Rome Statute would not affect its jurisdiction over crimes for the period when the country was a member, the ICC would still need solid evidence, Roque said.
“The ICC knows that without cooperation from the state, it would be hard to do a case buildup because all criminal cases, even in the ICC, and most especially in the ICC, must present real evidence and not just newspaper reports,” he said.
Earlier, Roque said the President would not cooperate with the “legally erroneous” and “politically motivated” case against him and added that it was based on hearsay evidence.
Duterte himself said the ICC was “bullshit” and that he would never appear before its “white” judges.
The VPRS said submissions from concerned families or groups were free and voluntary, but were “not [yet] an application process for participation in court proceedings … or for obtaining reparations before the ICC.”
Conti said this meant that those who provide these additional accounts of alleged crimes in the conduct of the war on drugs would not immediately be counted as complainants. “But [this makes sure that] every step of the way, the victims play a role and they can be involved,” Conti said.
When the process moves toward the trial stage, the ICC will again open applications so they can be officially considered part of the case, Conti said. The deadline for the submission of the representation is Aug. 13.
—WITH REPORTS FROM LEILA B. SALAVERRIA INQ
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