ICC probe hope for victims of ‘war on drugs’, say Filipino rights groups


Thousands of people who have fallen victim to the ‘war on drugs in the Philippines are now a step closer to justice, if a recommendation for a full investigation into the suspected crimes against humanity by International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda is accepted by the courts judges.

The ICC Prosecutor’s decision to recommend opening of this investigation provides hope to thousands of victims of the government’s ‘war on drugs’ campaign.

“It is a welcome step towards holding (Rodrigo) Duterte and all other perpetrators accountable for the actions they took in this long-drawn ‘war on drugs’,” eight Filipino and Asian human rights organisations said in a joint statement.

These are Philippines-based organisations Balaod Mindanaw, DAKILA – Philippine Collective for Modern Heroism, Karapatan Alliance Philippines, In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDefend), Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights (LILAK), Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), Task Force Detainees in the Philippines (TFDP), and regional organisation, the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).

On Monday, Bensouda requested for an investigation into the Philippines government’s ‘war on drugs’ as there was “reasonable basis to believe that crime against humanity had been committed within the context of the country’s war on drugs”.

He observed that the available information has indicated that members of the police force “unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians”.

“As human rights organisations in the Philippines, we have been witnesses to the unspeakable damage brought on not only by the government’s ‘war on drugs’, but also the relentless reprisals against individuals and groups who criticised and fought against this campaign.

“We call on the ICC to move towards this investigation, and to ensure that the victims and the civil society are made part of this process,” the groups said in the statement.

Documentation by civil society groups in the Philippines has demonstrated systematic use of violence by the police in the ‘war on drugs’ campaign, a state policy enforced by President Rodrigo Duterte and his government.

The number of killings and other violations have varied, but they are estimated to be in tens of thousands. Amid international scrutiny, the government has denied responsibility for these killings.

The eight organisations further called for the UN Human Rights Council to remedy its flawed approach on the situation in the Philippines and mandate a comprehensive international investigation into the extrajudicial killings as well as the broad range of serious human rights violations committed in the context of the ‘war on drugs’.

“The decision by the ICC Prosecutor further validates the stories of the victims — often poor and marginalised families whose suffering have been ignored by the government, and who have been deprived of justice for so long,” said the statement.

Meanwhile, domestic mechanisms for accountability remain lacking.

A review by the country’s Department of Justice following a damaging report by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been criticised for its lack of progress.

The OHCHR report, released on June 4, 2020 had detailed widespread violations and impunity on the part of the Philippines National Police and other state apparatuses.

Duterte has repeatedly assured police officers protection from their crimes, while inciting violence against human rights defenders and journalists who have criticised the campaign.

The groups also called on the Philippines government to refrain from obstructing ICC proceedings and to ensure the safety and security of the families of the victims who cooperate with the possible investigation.

Others subjected to harassment and intimidation for assisting the victims’ families vowed to continue their work despite dangers of reprisals.

“The ICC Prosecutor’s decision is a message to the world that mass atrocities anywhere cannot be tolerated, and that perpetrators must eventually face justice. In the Philippines, this is a welcome step towards ensuring that the grave violations and the countless victims under the Duterte administration will not be forgotten,” said the statement by the eight rights groups.