As prosecutor's term ends, 'drug war' victims' kin push for ICC probe
File photo shows people lighting candles to protest drug war killings.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File

As prosecutor's term ends, 'drug war' victims' kin push for ICC probe

Kristine Joy Patag (Philstar.com) - June 14, 2021 - 11:32am

MANILA, Philippines — Families of people who died in President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “drug war” are making an urgent appeal to International Criminal Court prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who ends her term of office on June 15.

Assisted by the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, the families wrote to Bensouda and called for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippines and the issuance of an warrant of arrest against Duterte. Bensouda's office is conducting an preliminary examination into allegations made against the Duterte administration to determine whether to go forward with an investigation.

Incoming prosecutor Karim Khan was also furnished a copy of the letter.

"We post that, relevant to the current stage of the preliminary examination at Phase Three, the most effective and most just remedy to crimes against humanity in the context of [Duterte’s] ‘war on drugs’ will be achieved in the trial against said Respondent before the [ICC],” they said.

They told the ICC prosecutor that an investigation would serve the interest of justice and allow witnesses as well as the victims' relatives to give their testimony.

Church-based and sectoral group Rise Up is one of the many that submitted communications to the international tribunal accusing Duterte and his officials of committing crimes against humanity.

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

'No genuine investigation'

They claimed that there is “no genuine and effective national investigation or prosecution of crimes committed in the Philippine ‘war on drugs.’”

They noted that Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, in June 2020, told the United Nations Human Rights Council that his department will lead the review of deadly ‘drug war’ police operations.

In his statement, the justice chief implied that it was a national investigation, but this may be “an avoidance tactic to render the situation in the Philippine inadmissible before the ICC,” they noted.

“This is farthest from the truth. Until now, no substantial prosecution has taken place against suspected perpetrators from State security forces. More importantly, Respondent Dutere is under no criminal investigation or prosecution not only because he has control of the police and the government’s prosecution arm, but also, because he claims presidential immunity from suit,” they added.

Guevarra said that their initial review found that in more than half of the operations, police failed to follow standard protocols. No full examination of the recovered weapon or ballistic examination was also conducted.

The DOJ review is also neither comprehensive nor transparent, they said, as the initial report had been given to Duterte and the Philippine National Police, “implementors of the ‘war on drugs’” while the public has no access to it.

But even with this “damning” admission, “to date, there has been no responsive action, particularly, prosecution efforts from either the Office of the President, DOJ or the PNP,” they said.

READ: PNP failed to follow protocols in many drug operations, Guevarra tells UN rights body

Blocked access

The families also noted that access to information has long been an obstacle in investigations. They pointed out that police have the official records in such incidents, but they have routinely refused to give access to reports.

“Surveying other cases handled by undersigned counsel as well as others of public knowledge and record, there is, palpably, an unwillingness to investigate incidents committed in the course of the ‘war on drugs,’” they said.

While the PNP said they will give access to the DOJ on 61 cases where administrative liabilities had been found on cops, Duterte said that “drug war” documents are not public documents as these involve national security issues.

The families noted that there has been “unjustified and inordinate delay inconsistent with intent to bring perpetrators to justice.” There have also been “measures and legal loopholes to shield perpetrators” and investigation is left to the discretion of the perpetrators of the crime and implementors themselves.

“The situation of the Philippines having met all criteria established by the Rome Statute, it is our humble submission that the OTP thence has the legal duty to open an investigation,” they added.

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