A group of human rights lawyers on Saturday urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reject requests to defer its probe into the Duterte administration’s war on drugs and instead continue its ongoing investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity.
“We ask the ICC not to allow itself to be swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration. These are so contrary to what is happening on the ground and should never be taken at face value,” the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) said in a statement.
The lawyers’ group made the statement after the ICC temporarily suspended its probe into the administration’s drug war days after the Philippine government requested to defer to its government's investigation of its nationals for killings in the context of the campaign against drugs.
Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Eduardo Malaya in a letter to ICC prosecutor Karim Khan cited the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) referral to the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) of 52 cases in which the Philippine National Police-Internal Affairs Service found administrative liability on the part of the concerned personnel.
With this, the NUPL “entreats the ICC Prosecutor to deny any such deferral request and, instead, continue with the conduct of a full-blown investigation into the drug-war atrocities.”
“The families of the victims of thousands of extra-judicial killings left uninvestigated for years cannot, now, expect to find justice from a system designed specifically to protect those responsible,” the group said.
“The actions taken by the ICC during the last few months had given them that faint glimmer of hope. We cannot take that away from them now,” it added.
The ICC, however, said the prosecution would continue its analysis of information already in its possession, as well as of any new information it may receive from third parties.
The NUPL said the domestic “remedies” described by the Philippine ambassador 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.
“After five years of failing to hold perpetrators accountable for these crimes, the Duterte administration is now, suddenly, waving the DOJ 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 group said.
“This belated action on the part of the Philippine government is nothing but an attempt at white-washing its blood-soaked flagship program. It conspicuously excludes the possibility of investigating President Duterte and other high-ranking officials who are most responsible for these crimes against humanity,” it added.
The NUPL noted that the ICC Prosecutor and the Pre-Trial Chamber were absolutely on point in their previous assessments when they said that the crimes committed are the result of an established state policy.
“The Philippine justice system is a significant part of that policy. Not only is it extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims. It is also, clearly, being manipulated to shield the perpetrators from liability,” it said.
Malacañang had said it would be difficult for the ICC to “uncover the truth” as it insisted that the Philippine government will not cooperate in the investigation owing to the country’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, in 2019.
Human rights advocacy group Centerlaw, likewise, called on the ICC to “in the interests of international justice, to authorise the OTP (Office of the Prosecutor) to continue with their investigations of the Situation in the Philippines, as empowered under Article 18(2) of the Rome Statute.”
The group also said that the Philippine government’s request for deferral of the ICC’s investigation, claiming that “it is investigating or has investigated” the crimes against humanity in Duterte’s drug war is “further from the truth.”
“On the contrary, the fact that only 52 cases of the estimated 30,000 dead have been reviewed reveals that the government’s feigned compliance with international justice is paper thin,” Centerlaw said.
Probe suspension part of process
For former Senator Antonio Trillanes IV, the ICC’s temporary suspension of the drug war probe "is just part of the due process."
In a statement on Saturday, Trillanes pointed out that the ICC is giving itself time "to determine if the government’s supposed own investigation is genuine."
But he expressed confidence that the ICC will soon find out that the state investigation "is just part of the cover up of President Duterte" and that the international court "will soon resume its investigation."
Moreover, Trillanes said that the government's request for deferment is tantamount to the Duterte administration's recognition of ICC’s jurisdiction over it.
In December 2020, Trillanes said he and former Magdalo congressman Gary Alejano sought the intervention of the ICC in connection with the Duterte administration's war on drugs. —KG/LBG, GMA News