ICC ‘on the cusp’ of investigating PH drug war – lawyers of victims’ kin
MANILA, Philippines — Lawyers representing families of victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war believe they are now “on the cusp of an investigation” by the International Criminal Court (ICC) that can lead to the Philippine leader’s trial.
On Sunday, the ICC released a 30-page redacted report showing that 94 percent of the 204 representations filed before the court supported a formal investigation of the crimes committed in the course of the President’s antidrug campaign.
The report comes two weeks after the court wrapped up the representations by families of the drug war victims.
Lawyer Kristina Conti, who represents the batch of families that first filed the communiques that prompted a preliminary examination on the drug war before the ICC, said the 204 submissions represented 1,050 families acting in behalf of 1,530 drug war victims.
The Philippine government, in March 2018, filed before the secretary-general of the United Nations a notification of withdrawal from the 2002 Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.
But in July, the Supreme Court ruled that Duterte could not invoke the country’s withdrawal from the Statute without the Senate’s concurrence.
Many among the families of drug war victims said they wanted the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) to approve former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s May 24 request to open an investigation into allegations of crimes against humanity against Duterte.
Most of these families accuse the President of instigating the killings. Almost all wanted accountability and justice, the court noted.
Said one of the petitioners: “There is total impunity here. The police and their cohorts just killed, and the president gave the orders to kill in his public announcement, that’s why the killing continues and this has to be stopped.”
Another said, “He [Duterte] should be jailed. We do not need him to die or be killed. We want him to suffer in jail for what he is doing to our country, … [f]or the suffering he is giving to the people of this country and the powerless.”
Yet another representation said, “Family representatives prefer an investigation by the ICC because of their distrust, in terms of both capacity and fairness, in any investigation by Philippine government agencies.”
Only five representations said they didn’t want to proceed out of fear of reprisal and reliving their experiences in the drug war.
The ICC report noted other reported crimes against humanity committed in the context of the drug war: murder (181), torture (103), imprisonment (54), disappearance (28), attempted murder (8), and sexual violence (3).
Most of the representations want these crimes also covered by the ICC investigation.
The representations do not yet constitute evidence but will help the PTC decide whether to authorize Bensouda’s request for an investigation.
Conti said: “Right now, we are at the cusp of an investigation, which will be crucial when — not if, because I am confident we will proceed so—the case is prepared for trial. We have to successfully build our case in order to win the trial.”
The victims are not yet participants in the ICC proceedings. But Conti said that should the drug war be opened for investigation, they have at least “seven sets of incidents with complete documentation and absolute commitment to see this to the end.”
‘One more step’
“They are oriented and have pledged to participate actively during the investigation and also trial,” she said. “It’s been wonderful that many [of] other mothers are drawing inspiration from these seven. They also want to participate, but we’ll have to process again if necessary.”
Conti foresees the PTC coming up with a decision “by Sept. 22 thereabouts.” She said this was based on the court’s own rules, with the PTC having 120 days from receipt of Bensouda’s request in her final act as prosecutor, plus the monthlong extension for the representations.
“With this report, we hope that the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber will issue its decision to conduct investigations soon,” said Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay.
National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers chair Neri Colmenares said this was “one more step toward justice for the EJK (extrajudicial killings) victims.” He urged the court to “decide soon as the killings and arrests continue.”
—WITH A REPORT FROM INQUIRER RESEARCH
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