ICC Appeals Chamber denies Philippines' request to suspend ‘drug war’ probe

Xave Gregorio - Philstar.com
ICC Appeals Chamber denies Philippines' request to suspend �drug war� probe
In this file photo taken on July 20, 2017, male residents are rounded up for verification after police officers conducted a large scale anti-drug raid at a slum community in Manila. The International Criminal Court said January 27, 2023 it had authorized the reopening of an inquiry into the brutal anti-drugs campaign by former Philippines' president Rodrigo Duterte which left thousands dead.
AFP / Noel Celis

MANILA, Philippines (Updated 4:13 p.m.) — The Philippines failed to convince the Appeals Chamber of the International Criminal Court to suspend the investigation of the tribunal’s prosecutor into the alleged crimes against humanity committed in the course of the “war on drugs.”

In an eight-page decision issued Monday at The Hague in The Netherlands, the Appeals Chamber said it "rejects the request of the Republic of the Philippines for suspensive effect” of the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision."

Manila, through the appeal filed by the Office of the Solicitor General, has asked the ICC’s Appeals Chamber to reverse the authorization its Pre-Trial Chamber granted to its prosecutors to resume investigation into the “war on drugs” of the Duterte administration. The Philippines also sought for the suspension of the investigation pending resolution of their request, and for the Appeals Chamber to determine that ICC’s prosecutors are not authorized to resume their probe.

Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra explained in an interview with CNN Philippines’ Balitaan that the Philippine government’s appeal itself has not been rejected and would take months or even years to be resolved. But the Appeals chamber had rejected their move to suspend the proceedings pending the resolution of their appeal.

The ICC’s Appeals Chamber said the Philippines failed to provide persuasive reasons for it to suspend Prosecutor Karim Khan’s investigation while it tackles Manila’s request to scrap the probe entirely.

“In the absence of persuasive reasons in support of ordering suspensive effect, the Appeals Chamber rejects the request. This is without prejudice to its eventual decision on the merits of the Philippines’ appeal against the Impugned Decision,” it said in the decision signed by Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut.

The Impugned Decision refers to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision allowing Khan’s investigation into the situation in the Philippines, particularly the alleged crimes committed between November 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019 in the context of the “war on drugs” campaign.

The ICC Appeals Chamber said the Philippines failed to explain how its claim of lack of jurisdiction over the country or the absence of legal basis for the resumption of Khan’s investigation would “defeat its very purpose and create an irreversible situation that could not be corrected.”

It said the Philippines also did not specify what the “far-reaching and inimical consequences” Khan’s probe will have on suspects, witnesses and victims and did not say how these “would be very difficult to correct and may be irreversible.”

It also said that the Philippines can continue its own investigations on the “war on drugs” regardless of the ongoing proceedings before the ICC.

“For the foregoing reasons, the Appeals Chamber is not persuaded that the implementation of the Impugned Decision would cause consequences that ‘would be very difficult to correct’ or that ‘may be irreversible,’ or ‘could potentially defeat the purpose of the appeal,’” it said.

In allowing resumption of probe into Philippines, the Pre-Trial Chamber said domestic proceedings in the Philippines "do not sufficiently mirror the expected scope of the Court’s investigation, since they only address the physical, low-ranking perpetrators and at present do not extend to any high-ranking officials.”

Government figures peg the number of people who have died in anti-drug operations from July 2016 to May 2022 at 6,252, but human rights organizations say around 30,000 have been killed, some in summary executions.

President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. adopted the stance of his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte, on rejecting cooperation with the ICC and has called its investigation into the “drug war” a “threat to Philippine sovereignty.”

Duterte, along with his former police chief now Sen. Ronald dela Rosa, were the top minds behind the “drug war,” locally known as Oplan Tokhang. 

The former president maintained that he will never cooperate in the ICC’s investigation, Dela Rosa said his participation will depend on the Marcos administration.

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