The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been asked to proceed with an investigation on the human rights crisis in the Philippines after the conclusion of the preliminary investigation pointing to mass murders under the Rodrigo Duterte regime.
“Following a thorough preliminary examination process, the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians [between 2016 and 2019],” ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said.
“My Office has also reviewed information related to allegations of torture and other inhumane acts, and related events as early as 1 November 2011, the beginning of the Court’s jurisdiction in the Philippines, all of which we believe require investigation,” she added.
Bensouda said her preliminary investigation has determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines’ “war on drugs” campaign.
The prosecutor said the situation in the Philippines has been under preliminary examination since February 2018 when her office started analyzing “a large amount of publicly available information and information provided to it under article 15 of the Rome Statute.”
The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court is a treaty that established the permanent international court with jurisdiction to prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and crimes of aggression.
Lawyer Jude Sabio filed charges before the ICC on April 2017 accusing Duterte of crimes against humanity in connection with the thousands of deaths of suspected illegal drug dependents.
In 2017, former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV traveled to The Hague, The Netherlands to submit information bolstering Sabio’s charges.
The group Rise Up for Life and for Rights composed of families of the victims of Duterte’s war on drugs also submitted a complaint before the ICC in 2018.
Duterte responded by ordering the Philippines’ withdrawal of its ratification of the Rome Statute and repeatedly insulting Bensouda.
Bensouda however clarified that although the Philippines withdrew from the Rome Statute effective March 17, 2019, the ICC retains jurisdiction over crimes that are alleged to have occurred on the territory of the country during the period when it was still a party to the statute.
“Moreover, these crimes are not subject to any statute of limitation,” she explained.
Bensouda’s announcement was welcomed by human rights and activist groups as a “long-awaited step towards justice and accountability.”
“[I]t is yet another damning indictment of the Duterte government’s murderous policies that have killed — and continue to kill — thousands of Filipinos with impunity,” Karapatan secretary general Cristina Palabay said.
“Karapatan, together with the families of the victims of the drug war and other human rights advocates, welcomes this significant and much-needed development amid the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines,” Palabay added.
Bagong Alyansang Makabayan secretary general Renato Reyes Jr. said that one of Duterte’s grossest crimes is its so-called war on illegal drugs.
“In spite of the thousands upon thousands killed, the illegal drugs scourge has gone unabated, proving it is ineffective,” Reyes said.
The ICC prosecutor’s findings is another clear basis why darkness should never be allowed to reign over our country. The regime of state-sponsored killings must be stopped,” he added. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)