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Groups: ICC prosecutor's report a 'ray of hope' in Philippines' rights situation

Gaea Katreena Cabico - Philstar.com
Groups: ICC prosecutor's report a 'ray of hope' in Philippines' rights situation
Building of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands.
Wikimedia Commons

MANILA, Philippines — Human rights organizations welcomed the announcement of the International Criminal Court prosecutor that there is “reasonable basis” to believe crimes against humanity were committed in the killings linked to the government’s brutal “war on drugs.”

In a report, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office is “satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe” that murder, torture and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm were committed in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019 in connection with the anti-narcotics crackdown.

Bensouda said she is expecting the decision on whether she would seek authorization to open a formal investigation would be out in the first half of 2021.

National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers president Edre Olalia described the latest development as “rays of hope [that] have peeked out of the pitch dark clouds of impunity.”

“We hope real and effective redress can be achieved in time,” Olalia said.

Karapatan called the move “another damning indictment of the Duterte administration’s murderous policies.”

“We welcome this significant development and its implications on what can only be described as a rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines. We look forward to the ICC-Office of the Prosecutor’s conclusion of its preliminary examination and on the possibility [of] an investigation into the situation in the Philippines next year,” Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay said.

Conclusion of preliminary examination

Bensouda’s office initiated a preliminary examination into the alleged extrajudicial killings in the context of the government’s anti-drug crackdown in February 2018, prompting the Philippine government to withdraw from the Hague-based tribunal.

The examination pushed through even with the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC.

Last year, Bensouda said the next step would be decided within 2020. But the examination was affected by the coronavirus pandemic and capacity constraints, she said.

A preliminary examination determines if an alleged crime falls within ICC’s jurisdiction and if a full-blown investigation is needed. The ICC, set up in 2020 to bring justice to victims of the world’s worst crimes, is a “court of last resort” and gets involved only if member countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute offenders.

The Philippine government insists local courts are functioning well.

If Bensouda’s office decides there is reasonable reason to proceed with an investigation, the next move would be to submit to the court’s Pre-Trial Chamber permission to open an investigation.

The government acknowledges the deaths of nearly 6,000 “drug personalities” in anti-narcotics operations, all of whom were reported to have violently resisted arrest. This figure is significantly lower than the estimates of human rights monitors of as many as 27,000 killed.

Assurance

NUPL’s Olalia also said Bensouda’s announcement that her office has been following “with concern” reported threats and acts of violence against human rights defenders, journalists and government critics provides “some sense of relief and assurance.”

The UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a report released in June said the vilification of dissent and attacks against critics of the government is being “increasingly institutionalized and normalized in ways that will be very difficult to reverse.”

State officials label activists and progressive lawmakers as communist rebels. On the celebration of Human Rights Day last week, a journalist and six trade unionists were arrested.

The UN rights office also said the government’s heavy-handed” focus on combating illegal drugs and security threats—coupled with incitement to violence from top officials—resulted in grave human rights violations.

“We call on the ICC and other human rights bodies such as the UN Rights Council to pursue its investigation into the human rights crisis in the Philippines, and we strongly hope that accountability can be achieved as soon as possible,” Karapatan’s Palabay said.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY INTERNATIONAL CRIMINAL COURT WAR ON DRUGS
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