With a new ICC prosecutor, lawyers of 'drug war' victims kin hope for investigation into Duterte
File photo shows people lighting candles to protest drug war killings.
The STAR/Miguel de Guzman, File

With a new ICC prosecutor, lawyers of 'drug war' victims kin hope for investigation into Duterte

(Philstar.com) - June 14, 2021 - 2:47pm

MANILA, Philippines — Lawyers representing victims of President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody “drug war” are pinning their hopes on International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan that calls for an investigation into crimes against humanity against Duterte and his men will be prioritized.

As they make a last appeal to outgoing ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, lawyer Neri Colmenares said they believe Khan will maintain the tenets of respect, protection and promotion of human rights. “We trust in his objectivity assessment of case and that he will rule on this case on the merits before the ICC,” he added.

On Monday, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers assisted the families of “drug war” victims and sectoral group Rise Up in filing their fourth supplemental communication to the international tribunal. A day before Bensouda ends her mandate, the groups appealed for an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the country and for the issuance of an arrest warrant against Duterte.

Colmenares, NUPL chairperson, noted that since they filed their second supplemental communication to June 14, the number of “drug war” victims rose by 600.

“There is a need to prioritize because there is still an increase, escalation of killings unless the ICC steps in,” Colmenares said.

Conti, who is also representing families of victims in domestic cases, noted that Khan “has the capability to handle these cases.”

She noted that the incoming ICC prosecutor is currently the assistant secretary-general of the United Nations and has previously litigated in international humanitarian law and international criminal law cases.

“As assistant secretary general, we understand that he is part of the investigation committee into war crimes in Iraq. So this is really his specialty and I think he will be in a great position as prosecutor of the ICC to appreciate evidence we already submitted to the court,” Conti added.

Bensouda launched a preliminary examination into the alleged extrajudicial killings in the context of the government’s anti-drug crackdown in February 2018, leading to the withdrawal of the Philippines from the Hague-based body.

A preliminary examination determines if an alleged crime falls within the court’s jurisdiction and if a full-blown probe is needed.

If Bensouda concludes that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation, the next step would be to submit to the Pre-Trial Chamber permission to open an investigation, together with any supporting material collected.

In December 2020, she said the ICC’s chief prosecutor’s decision on whether it will seek authorization to launch an investigation into the alleged extrajudicial killings in the country in the first half of 2021.

Since then, the Philippine government launched a high-profile panel review of police “drug war” operations that resulted in deaths, headed by Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra. The panel figured significantly in the resolution of the 47-member UNHRC in October that sought for capacity building and technical assistance to improve the human rights situation in the Philippines. 

In its initial report, the panel 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.

But in Rise Up’s latest filing before the ICC, they stressed that “to date, there has been no responsive action, particularly, prosecution efforts from either the Office of the President, DOJ or the PNP.” — Kristine Joy Patag with reports from Gaea Katreena Cabico

As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: January 14, 2020 - 2:32pm

President Rodrigo Duterte says the controversial drug war will continue until the last day of his term, with or without a communication filed at the International Criminal Court.

The ICC recently announced that it has begun processing the accusations against Duterte and his campaign against illegal drugs, which has led to the killing of thousands of people since he assumed power in June 2016. — Photo of the ICC building by AP/Peter Dejong

January 14, 2020 - 2:32pm

Lawyer Romel Bagares, lead counsel for Philippine Coalition for International Criminal Court, says Jude Sabio’s communication against President Rodrigo Duterte at the International Criminal Court was "largely irrelevant."

"To begin with, his submission was largely irrelevant as it dealt with matters before Mr Duterte became president," Bagares says. 

"Also the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) itself said in its Dec 5 report said it consulted open sources in its preliminary examination so it is not limited to him. But definitely it will buoy up the confidence of all the President’s men," he adds. 

January 14, 2020 - 2:14pm

Lawyer Jude Sabio says he will withdraw his communication about extrajudicial killings filed before the International Criminal Court.

In a release, Sabio says "he did not approve what Trillanes and other LP personalities have resorted to aimed at besmirching the honor of the President."

The lawyer, who was assisted by Larry Gadon in a Quezon City court, has signed and sworn an affidavit and statement about his withdrawal.  

March 31, 2019 - 11:54am
Karapatan challenges the Duterte administration not to block efforts by the International Criminal Court and United Nations Independent Experts to probe human rights violations it reported if indeed human rights organizations are "merely spouting lies to defame the government."
"It is clear to us why there are very persistent efforts to undermine our work and discredit our organization. We are being singled out, harassed, and our work criminalized because of our advocacy to continuously expose human rights violations and initiate efforts and campaigns to hold the Philippine government accountable as the primary duty-bearer of human rights promotion and defense," Karapatan Secretary General Cristina Palabay says in a statement.
Karapatan made the statement after a delegation called the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict made rounds in diplomatic missions in Europe. It said the delegation "maliciously" red-tagged several human rights organizations.
The European Union on Saturday said it would probe allegations that its aid were being funneled to Philippine communist guerrillas after the Philippine government asked for an investigation.
March 19, 2019 - 8:20am

The Philippines' withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the International Criminal Court, does not mean the preliminary examination into allegations of extrajudicial killings in the government's war on drugs has ended, the court's prosecutor says.

In a post on social media, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda says that under the statute, "and based on prior ICC judicial ruling in the situation in Burundi, the Court retains its jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time in which the State was party to the Statute and may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective."

The Palace has argued that the Philippines, which has nominated judges to the ICC, has never been a party to the Statute of Rome, arguing that it should have been published in the Official Gazette or a newspaper like a regular law.

"My office's independent and impartial preliminary examination into the situation in the Philippines continues," Bensouda says.

March 18, 2019 - 10:34pm

Human Rights Watch clarifies that President Rodrigo Duterte can still face prosecution by the International Criminal Court despite Malacañang arguing otherwise by claiming that the Rome Statute, the treaty that created the ICC, was not published in the government's official publication.

READ: Publication not among usual requirements for treaties, agreements

"Even though the Philippines is no longer a party to the court’s Rome Statute, the ICC can still try crimes committed while the Philippines was a member – from November 1, 2011 until March 16, 2019," Param-Preet Singh, associate director of HRW's International Justice Program, says.

"Duterte has claimed that the Philippine justice system can deliver justice, but the conviction of three police in a single case to date, against a backdrop of up to 27,000 dead, according to a recent United Nations estimate, tells a very different story."

Presidential spokesperson Salvador Panelo also stressed that under the Rome Statute, the ICC could only proceed with a probe if it has conducted a preliminary investigation. 

"Duterte may think that his country’s withdrawal from the ICC is a show of strength. But on the contrary: his bald-faced effort to protect himself from the court’s reach looks more like an act of desperation for a man who appears deeply implicated in alleged crimes against humanity," Singh says.

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