Rights groups in the Philippines protest ICC suspension of ‘war on drugs’ probe


Rights groups on Saturday has called on the International Criminal Court (ICC) to push on with its probe into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly “war on drugs”, after the tribunal suspended its investigation.

The Netherlands-based ICC temporarily suspended its investigation after a request of deferral from the Philippine government.

The National Union of People’s Lawyers, which represents families of those killed in the anti-drug drive, requested the court’s chief prosecutor to continue with the investigation and not be “swayed by the claims now being made by the Duterte administration”.

“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 group said in a statement.

Since taking office in 2016, Duterte has carried out the anti-drug campaign, which according to official records has led to the deaths of more than 6,000 Filipinos to date. The tribunal’s prosecutors in court papers estimate the death figure to be between 12,000 and 30,000.

The tribunal in September authorized a full investigation into the anti-drug campaign, which it said appeared to have been “a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population” and could amount to crimes against humanity.

On Friday, the Hague-based court announced that it had suspended the investigation to assess a deferral request from the Philippine ambassador in the Netherlands, who in a letter to the court said that the Philippine government was investigating the alleged crimes.

The Philippines Justice Department has been investigating dozens of police officers suspected of criminal abuse in anti-drug operations after a UN Human Rights Council report said that the drug war was an “illegal, murderous state policy.”

Last month, the Justice Department said that it found rights abuse in 52 cases of death reviewed under the investigation.

Human Rights Watch Asia Director Brad Adams said on Saturday that the government is claiming that existing domestic mechanisms afford citizens justice to “stave off ICC action.”

“In its letter to the ICC, the Philippine government claims that ‘drug war’ killings are being investigated. This is barely true; only 52 out of thousands of killings are in early stages of the investigation,” he said in a statement. “Despite many clear-cut cases of murder, no charges have even been filed.”

The Philippine government has welcomed the tribunal’s decision to suspend the investigation, saying that the court had no jurisdiction over the Philippines.

Duterte pulled Manila out of the court in 2019 after it launched a preliminary probe into the war on drugs, but according to the court it still has jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member.

“We reiterate that it is the position of the Philippine government that the ICC has no jurisdiction over it,” Duterte’s acting spokesperson, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles, said in a statement after the announcement to suspend the investigation.

“We welcome the judiciousness of the new ICC prosecutor, who has deemed it fit to give the matter a fresh look and we trust that the matter will be resolved in favor of the exoneration of our government and the recognition of the vibrancy of our justice system.” (Source: Arab News)