Victims' families, groups hail ICC decision to proceed with 'drug war' probe

James Relativo - Philstar.com
Victims' families, groups hail ICC decision to proceed with 'drug war' probe
A relative of a victim of an extra-judicial killing attends a memorial mass ahead of All Soul's Day to remember loved ones slain in the government's war on drugs, at the Commission on Human Rights in Manila on Oct. 29, 2021.
AFP / Jam Sta. Rosa

MANILA, Philippines — Groups and families left behind by former President Rodrigo Duterte's brutal "war on drugs" welcomed the International Criminal Court's decision to continue its investigation into the Philippines with hope that it would finally give them justice for alleged extrajudicial killings.

The ICC this Tuesday (Manila time) affirmed its decision to carry on with its investigation into a campaign that led to the deaths of over 6,000 acknowledged by the government. Estimates by rights groups that include deaths attributed to vigilantes and drug syndicates reach as high as 30,000.

"We will continue to speak out, seek justice and fight! We are no longer under president Duterte but the spate of killings continue," said Amy Jane Lee of Rise UP this Tuesday in Filipino, speaking on behalf of families left orphaned and widowed by extrajudicial killings.

"We were the ones made to face difficulties. Why would we be embarassed? The pain of our loss will not cease just because of the ICC decision. Only time, humility on the part of those who oppressed us and accountability of the perpetuators could make us heal."

The kin of the EJK victims and their advocates said that they are ready to cooperate with the ICC as it pushes forward, with the decision building confidence for accountability for the killings.

Groups show support

Several human rights groups welcomed the chamber's decision, saying that it is high time that the ICC investigation proceed without a hitch so that the victims could inch towards justice.

"There is urgent need for international mechanisms such as the ICC to come in because all domestic investigation mechanisms presented by the Duterte and the current Marcos regimes in response to calls for justice and accountability are ineffective and only meant to window-dress the current dire human rights situation," said Cristina Palabay, secretary general of Karapatan.

"We laud the courage, perseverance and tenacity of the victims and their families, as well as the diligence and persistent work of human rights lawyers in pursuing this investigation. Let this welcome development further inspire the Filipinos’ struggle for justice and accountability."

The group In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend) for their part said that the ICC recent decision to reject the state's petition exemplifies the principle that "justice cannot wait."

"We further commend the international community’s unrelenting support to the cause of justice. Lastly we commend the survivors and victims’ families whose collective courage pushes the wheels of international justice to turn," said iDefend.

"In the end their struggle benefits all of us who pray such a war, the impact of which will be felt for generations, is never imposed on us again."

'Marcos should cooperate once and for all'

Together with iDefend, groups such as Bagong Alyansang Makabayan and Human Rights Watch joined in the wider call for President Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr. to direct the government to cooperate with the ICC.

"It is time for Mr. Marcos and the Philippine government to stop invoking sovereignty every time those in power wish to escape accountability under our international treaty obligations especially for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity," said Renato Reyes Jr., president of BAYAN.

"It seems that when it comes to the question of human rights accountability, the current regime does not try to conceal how very much the same it is to the previous regime. No rebranding and no pretensions there of any sort. Just a firm commitment to the same brand of impunity of the past regime."

Reyes is hopeful that Marcos Jr., in his second state of the nation address, will; declare that the Philippines will comply with its human rights obligations.

Bryony Lau, Deputy Assia Director for HRW, had a similar thing to say.

"The ICC appeals judges' ruling marks the next step toward justice for victims and their families," Lau said.

"The Marcos administration should follow through on its international legal obligation to cooperate with the court's investigation."

Questions on jurisdiction

The ICC suspended its probe in November 2019 — still during the Duterte administration — after the Philippine government claimed that it would conduct its own inquiry into the deaths.

The pre-trial chamber resumed its probe last January after it claimed that the state had not adequately conducted its own investigation.

This prompted Philippine authorities to appeal the decision last March, insisting that the ICC had no jurisdiction over the country after Duterte withdrew Philippines from the Rome Statute last March 17, 2019. The ICC rejected this appeal.

Article 127 of the Rome Statute clearly states the following:  "A State shall not be discharged, by reason of its withdrawal, from the obligations arising from this Statute while it was a Party to the Statute."

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