Rights lawyers ask ICC to continue investigating Duterte’s drug war murders

Human rights lawyers requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged drug war atrocities.

Even as the Hague-based international tribunal has agreed to defer its investigation, the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers said the Philippine government’s request is merely a “belated action” to whitewash the mass killings.

“These domestic ‘remedies’ described by the Philippine ambassador (to The Netherlands) in his letter have proven utterly ineffective in stopping wave after wave of drug-related killings, the imprisonment of thousands of poor Filipinos on questionable charges, and the commission of countless human rights violations during the anti-drug campaign,” the group said.

In his letter to the ICC, Ambassador J. Eduardo Malaya asked the ICC to defer to Philippine domestic remedies when it comes to the investigation into crimes against humanity in connection with the drug war.

President Duterte and several other government officials are charged before the ICC of the murder of thousands of suspected drug dependents.

ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan reported on November 18 that his office temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the Philippine government’s deferral request.

Khan however said his office will continue its analysis of information it already has, any new information it may receive from third parties, as well as “actively assess the need for applications to the Pre-Trial Chamber for authority to conduct necessary investigative steps for the preservation of evidence.”

Saving Duterte

In opposing the Philippine government’s petition, the NUPL said the Duterte administration has failed to hold perpetrators accountable for at least six thousand of drug-related killings.

“[T]he Duterte administration is now suddenly waving the DOJ (Department of Justice) investigation into some low-ranking police personnel for a handful of killings – 52 out of tens of thousands  –  as an indicator that domestic mechanisms are working. We know better,” the NUPL said.

Justice secretary Menardo Guevarra announced on October a formal agreement is being drafted between the National Bureau of Investigation and the Philippine National Police (PNP) for an investigation into cases of irregularities in anti-drug operations.

But the NUPL said the 52 cases the PNP itself identified “conspicuously excludes the possibility of investigating President Duterte and other high-ranking officials who are most responsible” for the killings.

The group agreed with the ICC prosecutor and the tribunal’s pre-trial chamber’s previous assessment that the crimes were the result of an established state policy.

Duterte himself has repeatedly said he takes responsibility for the killings.

The NUPL said the ICC investigations have given the families of the victims a faint glimmer of hope, which would be dashed if the international tribunal takes on the side of the Philippine government.

“We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made the Duterte administration,” the NUPL said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)