Rights Watchdog Urges Faster ICC Probe into Philippine Drug-War Killings

Karl Romano
190221-PH-body-1000.JPG Police and bystanders look at the body of a slain suspected drug pusher in a Manila street, Oct. 26, 2017.
[Luis Liwanag/BenarNews]

Human Rights Watch called Thursday on the International Criminal Court to speed up a preliminary probe it launched in early 2018 into extrajudicial killings committed under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

The drug war expanded throughout last year to areas outside the capital Manila, and those questioning the bloody counter-narcotics crackdown that has mainly targeted poor Filipinos have found themselves in the president’s crosshairs, the New York-based global rights monitoring group said.

“The ICC needs to step up its efforts to ensure accountability. Members of the U.N. Human Rights Council, of which the Philippines is a member, need to do what it can to hold the Philippines accountable,” Carlos Conde, the Philippine researcher at Human Rights Watch (HRW) told BenarNews, referring to the International Criminal Court, based in The Hague, Netherlands.

“Foreign governments need to speak out more loudly and more openly against the killings. This brutality has gone on long enough,” he said.

In February 2018, the court notified the Philippines that about a preliminary investigation it was opening into the killings of thousands of people during President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs.

“President Duterte has used the killing of thousands of largely poor drug suspects as a tool to bolster his popularity. He’s also targeting anyone who might undermine that popularity, from outspoken senators to journalists documenting his abuses,” Brad Adams, HRW’s Asia director, said in a statement.

During a speech in Manila on Wednesday, Duterte again lashed out at critics of his drug war, saying he was prepared to “accept the consequences” of his actions. He also vowed that the drug war would be “harsher in the days to come.”

“I think … harsher in the days to come … I’m putting everybody on notice, I will not allow my country to be destroyed by drugs. I don’t want my country to end up as a failed state,” Duterte said.

“I am declaring war. I am not declaring punitive police action,” he adding, saying he was prepared to “kill anybody who stands in the way.”

About a month after the ICC notified the Philippines about the probe, Duterte, in accusing the international court of attacking him, pulled the country out of a treaty that created the ICC.

“I’m ready for hell, but I will never, never preside over a nation that will deteriorate in my presence,” Duterte said.

In the Philippine chapter of its latest annual report, published last month, Human Rights Watch said the drug war expanded to areas outside Manila in 2018, including the nearby suburbs of  Bulacan, Laguna, Cavite, and the cities of Cebu and General Santos in the central and southern Philippines.

Official figures released by the Philippine drug enforcement agency, as well as the police, said that over 5,000 suspected addicts and dealers had been slain since Duterte took office in 2016. Rights groups, including HRW, have given a higher toll, citing many unreported deaths.

Duterte is facing two complaints before the ICC. The first was filed by a former policeman and a self-confessed assassin who alleged that Duterte ordered the killings of criminals and opponents, when Duterte was the longtime mayor of southern Davao city; and a second case, filed by relatives of eight people killed in the drug war.

Dennis Jay Santos contributed to this report from Davao City, Philippines.

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