Rights watchdog: Possible ICC probe will be 'painstaking, tedious' process

Franco Luna - Philstar.com
Rights watchdog: Possible ICC probe will be 'painstaking, tedious' process
A Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency agent secures part of a street holding residents temporarily during a drug raid in Maharlika Village, Taguig, south of Manila on Feb. 28, 2018. The drug raid was conducted to arrest five drug dealers, but only two were captured. President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead and seen human rights groups claim he was responsible for a crime against humanity. The anti-drugs campaign enjoys popular support while the fiery-tongued Duterte has rejected any criticism of his human rights record.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines — Even if it pushes through, the International Criminal Court's probe into the Duterte administration's "drug war" could take months, due in part to the restrictions placed by the Philippine government. 

At a press conference Wednesday night, members of New York-based Human Rights Watch said that the ICC probe would result in a "painstaking process" before coming to fruition. 

If the ICC agrees to a probe, the investigation will fall to the successor of former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, UK lawyer Karim Khan. 

Param-Preet Singh, associate director of the Human Rights Watch International Justice Program, pointed to lack of access as a factor that could slow down case buildup. 

"The new prosecutor has been handed a set of cards, and now he has to play them. If the [case proceeds,] the judges would make a decision in around three months,” she said. 

"This is not a quick process, especially since it will be taking place primarily from the outside and they will not be granted access to the country."

This comes after Bensouda, whose term ended Tuesday, announced she sought permission for a full-blown investigation into killings committed during the Duterte administration's "drug war."

READ: CHR says Duterte admin's rights violations 'incomparable' to previous terms

HRW asserts: ICC has jurisdiction 

In the aftermath of the ICC's announcement, the Duterte administration alleged that the prosecutor did not have subject matter jurisdiction and framed the possible probe as an attack on the Philippine justice system and on its sovereignty. 

Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque also cast doubt on the evidence that Bensouda based her decision on, calling it "hearsay information" about what he insisted was "collateral damage" in legitimate police operations. He added that President Rodrigo Duterte was "unbothered" by the probe and was "confident it would not prosper."

Singh said that "the prosecutor disagrees" with the claim, pointing out that the Philippines' withdrawal from the ICC in 2019 would not stop the examination as it still had jurisdiction over alleged crimes committed before the Duterte administration pulled out.

"When the Philippines became a state party to the ICC, they basically gave the court jurisdiction over crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide," she said. 

"So it's this painstaking, sometimes tedious process of gathering evidence to prove the elements of the crimes that they think were committed."

She added that the findings of Bensouda's preliminary investigation were "consistent with those of Human Rights Watch," saying "there may very well be" other rights violations that were committed as well. 

"In fact, these attacks have been widespread or systematic on the civilian population. It's up to the judges to determine whether or not that's sufficient, but from where I stand, I don't see that as an obstacle just given the patterns of the violations and who has been targeted," she said. 

Official police figures acknowledge at least 6,117 deaths in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to end-April of this year. Police leadership earlier claimed the number was as high as 8,000 but eventually dialed this back. However, rights groups both here and abroad say the real number may be as high as 30,000. 

READ: Duterte reluctance to share info on 'drug war' deaths a new roadblock, CHR says

What happens next?

Asked how the conduct of the case could play out, Singh said that arrests could still be made regardless of the state's compliance. 

"Eventually arrest warrants will be issued. Whether or not the Philippine government will comply...it becomes a situation of building political pressure to force the government's hand to comply," she said. 

"With the current government, it's safe to say that they probably won't."

She pointed to the example of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir who was eventually jailed after his government was overthrown. 

"What I've learned following the ICC is that it can be slow, but it can produce results," she said. 

READ: Majority of Filipinos see human rights violations in 'failing' drug war — SWS






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