DFA warns 'drug war' probe may discourage other states from joining ICC
Undated file photo shows Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin speaking to reporters about rising tensions in the West Philippine Sea.

DFA warns 'drug war' probe may discourage other states from joining ICC

Franco Luna (Philstar.com) - June 15, 2021 - 1:49pm

MANILA, Philippines — A potential probe by the International Criminal Court into the Philippines' "drug war" may deter other states from joining it, the Department of Foreign Affairs claimed Tuesday as it touted the country's track record on human rights. 

This comes after Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the international court, announced she is seeking a full-blown investigation into killings committed during the Duterte administration's "drug war" as one of her last acts before her term ends.

Bensouda said this as she wrapped up her office's preliminary examination — to determine whether an investigation is warranted — on the Duterte government's flagship campaign against illegal narcotics. She said she found "reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder" was committed in the course of the "war on drugs."

In a statement, Foreign Affairs Secretary Teodoro Locsin panned the move, saying it could discourage other countries from signing the Rome Statute to States. 

"The midnight announcement by the current prosecutor on the eve of her end of term also preempts the prerogative of her successor to make a full evaluation of the cases that he will prosecute," Locsin said. 

"By her act, the outgoing prosecutor likewise undercuts the attractiveness of the Rome Statute to states that may be considering accession." 

READ: ICC prosecutor seeks Philippines drug war probe

The Rome Statute is the international treaty that created the International Criminal Court.

President Rodrigo Duterte in 2018 notified the United Nations of his decision to withdraw ratification of the Rome Statute after Bensouda announced the start of her preliminary examination into alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.

The ICC said in response then that the withdrawal would not stop the examination as it still had jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed while the Philippines was a member of the ICC.

DFA: Philippines has long track record on rights

Locsin in his statement also pointed to the government's Joint Program on Human Rights being finalized with the United Nations in arguing that the country had a "long track record of constructive engagement with international and regional partners in human rights promotion and protection." 

The UN Human Rights Council last October adopted a resolution "to provide technical assistance and capacity-building" to help the Philippines meet its human rights obligations. Rights groups like Human Rights Watch and Karapatan called the rights panel's move would not be enough to discourage the killings nor to seek accountability for them.

That technical cooperation has yet to be finalized, with Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra saying in a video statement posted on the Facebook page of the Department of Foreign Affairs on Sunday that it will be signed soon.

"The program document outlines the objectives, strategies, and targets of the [UN Joint Program on Human Rights] towards credible and measurable outcomes and concrete impact on the ground, especially for vulnerable groups," he said.

“We are presently in the process of finalizing the administrative requirements for the formal signing of this program document at the soonest opportunity.”'

READ: Duterte administration 'will never cooperate' with any ICC probe, Palace says

Palace won't cooperate with probe 

Locsin in his statement also said that the Philippine government has taken "concrete and progressive steps to address concerns in the conduct of the anti-illegal drugs campaign."

"All these affirm the Philippines' adherence to human rights norms," he said. 

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque lashed out at the ICC on Tuesday, saying the country's courts were functioning and no foreign intervention was needed in what he said was "politically motivated" accusations. 

"The president will never cooperate until the end of his term on June 30, 2022," he said. "We do not need foreigners to investigate the drug war."

Rights groups both here and abroad, including the government's own rights commission, urged the Duterte administration to cooperate with the probe. The CHR's own investigations into the drug war killings has been blocked by the government through the years. 

Other rights monitors called the move a blow versus the impunity prevalent in the administration's so-called war on drugs. 

Official police figures acknowledge at least 6,117 deaths in anti-drug operations as of April 30. Police leadership earlier claimed the number was as high as 8,000 but later took this back. However, rights groups say the real number of people killed in the "drug war" may be as high as 30,000. 

A recent international report by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime found that crystal meth or shabu is still behind the most drug-related arrests and admissions, five years into Duterte's term. — with a report from Bella Perez-Rubio 

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