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Int’l rights group urges ICC to proceed with ‘drug war’ probe

Philstar.com, November 21, 2021

MANILA, Philippines — A global human rights coalition on Sunday morning called on the International Criminal Court to “proceed without delay” with its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s “war on drugs”.

In a statement sent to media, the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines said that the ICC’s decision to temporarily suspend its investigation “rewards Duterte and further victimizes those who gave evidence in support of ICC probe.”

The ICC said it would suspend investigative activities for the time being “while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request” filed by Manila.

The Philippine government filed the deferral request on November 10, pointing to its own investigations into “drug war” killings. The Palace has said that the government’s request does not concede jurisdiction to the ICC.

“In accordance with the principle of complementarity under which the Court operates, the Philippine government has the first responsibility and right to prosecute international crimes,” the government said in a letter to ICC prosecutor Karim Khan. 

“The Court may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fails to do so, which certainly is not the case in the Philippines… the domestic institutions in the Philippines are fully functional and more than adequate to address the issues and concerns raised,” it also said.

The Philippines has maintained this position amid concerns of human rights violations in the “drug war.”

“The Prosecutor found credible evidence that crimes against humanity had occurred. Any suspension or delay is an absolute betrayal of those brave individuals who came forward at great personal risk to provide evidence and testimony regarding these alleged crimes,” ICHRP chairperson Peter Murphy said. 

READ: CHR: ‘Drug war’ review report credibility may suffer if done ‘in the shadows’

In its November 10 request to the ICC, the Duterte government claimed it had already begun its own review of 52 cases where police killed suspects during anti-drug operations.

The 52 cases are among 6,100 deaths acknowledged by official police data. Rights groups say as many as 30,000 may have died in the course of the “drug war”.

This, while the newly-minted chief of the national police appointed by Duterte himself has promised continuity in what he said would be the “finale” of the administration’s bloody war on drugs. 

“ICHRP has full confidence in the impartiality of the ICC. We reiterate that the ICC should heed the call of these families to fully investigate the Duterte administration for these crimes against humanity so that, finally, justice may be served and impunity ended,” Murphy said.

Rights group points to ‘failure of domestic remedies’

The ICHRP in its statement also pointed to the findings of global investigating panel Investigate PH which found that Philippine courts had managed to convict two police officers for the 2017 murder of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos – one case in the 6,011 officially recorded up to the end of 2020.

“The findings of the First and Second Reports of the Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (Investigate PH) clearly showed the flaws and failure of the domestic remedies now claimed to be operating,” said Murphy.

PNP chiefs routinely bring up the singular conviction of Kian Delos Santos’ cop-killers as proof that the justice system is working for the families of victims searching for justice. 

But Murphy also pointed out that the case only succeeded because the Barangay Captain had failed to switch off the CCTV which recorded the police abduction of Kian.

READ: PNP says 2018 conviction of Kian’s murderers proof that ‘domestic remedies work’

Investigate PH also dispelled the Philippine government claims that the thousands of victims of the war on drugs were killed by police in self-defense or the popular “nanlaban” (fought back) narrative. 

In its report, the panel presented forensic evidence to the ICC of victims with defensive wounds, of victims who had been bound before being killed or others taking bullets to the back.

“There are probably over 30,000 cases of these police killings in anti-drug operations, based on statistics of “Deaths Under Investigation”. And now the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency no longer reports deaths in anti-drug operations, on their Real Numbers PH webpage.”

The Philippine government now tells the international community that its domestic remedies are working. When the Investigate PH reports came out, though, Duterte’s appointed officials were quick to dismiss it as “malicious” and “uninformed.”

“This kind of review – of 5,655 cases – was first promised by the Secretary of Justice to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2020,” said Murphy.

READ: Abuse in ‘drug war’ routinely covered up, advocates say

In February 2021 Secretary Guevarra reported that just 328 cases had been reviewed, revealing no proper crime scene investigation in more than half the cases.

In May 2021, he reported that the PNP had given access to files on 61 cases, but by June 1, 2021, the police had cut this number to 53 and eventually 52. 

ICHRP pointed out that this figure represented “well below 1 percent of deaths in police anti-drug operations.”

“There is no way that this level of inquiry – most unlikely to be genuine – amounts to an investigation of the crime against humanity of murder which the ICC was investigating,” said Murphy.

“The ICC needs to re-start its investigation of all the evidence it has before it and give justice to the tens of thousands of Filipinos murdered at President Duterte’s repeated incitement.”

Franco Luna with a report from Bella Perez-Rubio 

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