Rights groups welcome ICC effort to reopen Duterte drug-war probe

Camille Elemia
Rights groups welcome ICC effort to reopen Duterte drug-war probe Philippine funeral workers carry the remains of two alleged drug-war victims exhumed from a rented crypt at Navotas public cemetery in metro Manila after its five-year lease expired, Feb. 28, 2022.
Jojo Riñoza/BenarNews

Rights groups in the Philippines have cheered a request by a prosecutor with the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reopen an investigation into the deadly drug war of President Rodrigo Duterte, who leaves office later this week.

ICC prosecutor Karim Khan filed a motion with the pre-trial chamber on Friday asking to resume his probe of the drug war in which police and vigilantes allegedly killed thousands of suspected dealers and addicts during Duterte’s first three years as president and for the previous five years in his hometown, Davao.

 “The ICC prosecutor’s request to resume the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Philippine government’s ‘drug war’ is a booster shot for accountability,” Human Rights Watch Senior Counsel Maria Elena Vignoli said in a statement on Sunday. 

“The government has not been serious about justice for these crimes while the victims’ families grieve without redress and those responsible face no consequences,” she said. 

Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, said President-elect Ferdinand Marcos Jr. should listen to his chosen National Security Adviser Clarita Carlos, who said the ICC prosecutor’s office should proceed with its investigation.

“Let them investigate. As a matter of fact, I said, ‘you invite them here.’ We have a team of scholars like us who can accompany them. Give them space to obtain data they need. Then, let them have their conclusions, whatever it is,” Carlos said in a televised interview over the weekend. 

“You need to confront that issue or else, it will rankle,” she said.

The ICC announced the investigation in September 2021 but backed off two months later to allow the Philippines to conduct its own probe.

Since then, Khan said he has found no legitimate state investigation into killings committed in Duterte’s southern hometown of Davao City from 2011 to 2016, which includes his term as mayor, and drug-related killings in the country during his presidency from 2016 to 2019, when the Philippines withdrew from the ICC. 

“The Office of the Prosecutor, pursuant to Article 18 of the Rome Statute, requests Pre-Trial Chamber I to authorize the resumption of the investigation into the situation in the Philippines,” Khan said in the 53-page motion posted on the ICC website on Friday. 

The pre-trial chamber has to approve Khan’s motion before the investigation can be reopened.

On Sunday, acting presidential spokesman Martin Andanar said the Philippine government had been transparent as it investigated “all deaths that have arisen from lawful drug enforcement operations.

“Let these efforts of the Philippine government run their course. After all, reciprocity is a key principle in the methods of work of the ICC. To veer away from this principle will only reveal the politicization that has infiltrated the ICC’s ranks,” Andanar said in a statement. 

In his statement, Khan, the ICC prosecutor, said information submitted by the Philippine government to date was “insufficient.” He said the Department of Justice had done “desk review,” which “does not constitute investigative activity.” 

“The information about cases collated from the dockets of national and regional prosecution offices in the Philippines likewise does not demonstrate that concrete and progressive steps have been or are being taken by the competent national authorities,” he said. 

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan speaks to reporters at the Ministry of Justice in Khartoum, Sudan, Aug. 12, 2021. [Marwan Ali/AP]

Call for Marcos to step up

Loretta Rosales, a former Commission on Human Rights chairwoman, called on the incoming Marcos administration to determine if Khan will be allowed to come to the Philippines and conduct his investigation. 

“It’s a welcome development. … But the ball is now up to the Marcos regime if they will allow him in. After all, Marcos has said he wants to rehabilitate the family name. This is the chance for him to do so,” she told BenarNews. 

Marcos and his running mate Sara Duterte – Duterte’s daughter – won the election last month in landslides. Activists fear the two could protect the outgoing leader from prosecution once he loses legal immunity upon leaving office. 

Meanwhile, local rights group Karapatan on Saturday called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to pursue an independent probe into the human rights situation in the country – a long overdue measure, the group said. 

“As President Duterte ends his term on June 30, he leaves a bloody trail of lives claimed by state violence and a long list of human rights violations committed with impunity, as his notorious legacy. Justice and accountability are words and concepts that Duterte and his cohorts disregard – but the victims, their families and human rights advocates will continue to persevere to pursue these,” Karapatan said in a statement.


Add your comment by filling out the form below in plain text. Comments are approved by a moderator and can be edited in accordance with RFAs Terms of Use. Comments will not appear in real time. RFA is not responsible for the content of the postings. Please, be respectful of others' point of view and stick to the facts.