THE office of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) prosecutor said there is “reasonable basis” to believe that crimes against humanity were committed in the implementation of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in her preliminary report released on Tuesday, said: “The Office is satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity for murder (Article 7)(1)(a), torture (Article 7)(1)(f) and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane Acts (Article 7)(1)(k) were committed on the territory of the Philippines between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, in connection to the WoD (war on drugs) campaign launched throughout the country.”
Since taking office in 2016, Duterte launched a bloody anti-narcotics crackdown in which thousands have been killed, sparking global outrage and criticism from rights groups.
Duterte has at times lashed out at what he said were international efforts to paint him as a “ruthless and heartless violator of human rights” and unilaterally withdrew the Philippines from the ICC’s founding treaty in 2018.
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque dismissed the report as speculative and legally erroneous. “They can do what they want to. We do not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC,” Roque said.
In her report, Bensouda noted that many of the people who were targeted by campaign against illegal drugs had been on a drug watch lists compiled by authorities or had previously surrendered to police, while a significant number of minors were victims.
She cited government data showing that 5,942 suspected drug dealers have been killed as of the end of October, though rights groups had claimed the death toll was much higher and say thousands more have died in shadowy circumstances.
Rights groups had accused the police of systematically executing suspected drug dealers and users, an allegation which the police had repeated denied. They insist that those killed violently resisted arrest during sting operations.
Bensouda said she has yet to decide if she would move for a formal investigation on the issue.
“The Office’s goal, announced last year, to bring the preliminary examination to a conclusion during the reporting period was impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic and capacity constraints. Nonetheless, the Office anticipates reaching a decision on whether to seek authorization to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines in the first half of 2021,” she said.
Bensouda said her office has also been following with concern reports of threats, killings and other measures taken against human rights defenders, journalists, and others, including those who criticize the war on drugs.
In the same report, Bensouda noted the limited investigations and prosecutions initiated in the country at the national level in relation to crimes committed during the drug war.
She added that Philippine government officials and bodies have provided “sporadic public updates” on the number of investigations conducted by authorities into killings that occurred during law enforcement operations.
She noted charges have only been filed against low-level perpetrators.
“The information available also indicates that criminal charges have been laid in the Philippines against a limited number of individuals- typically low-level physical perpetrators-with respect to some drug related killings,” she said, noting the conviction of three Caloocan City police officers for the killing of 17-year old Kian De Los Santos.
The Hague-based ICC started its preliminary examination of the Philippines drug campaign in 2018.
Sen. Panfilo Lacson said he was not sure what the ICC prosecutor meant by “reasonable basis to believe” since under the ICC statute, he said reasonable grounds to believe is considered as an “unreasonably unclear evidentiary threshold.”
He said another threshold the ICC prosecutor needs to hurdle in order to get a permission from the international body to proceed is to prove that the criminal justice system in the country is not functioning or at least fell short in prosecuting law enforcement agents who allegedly committed crime against humanity in relation to the administration’s war on drugs.
“In the realm of possibilities to prosecute the President for crimes against humanity, the statement of Prosecutor Bensouda may only be good as a press release and nothing more, at least at this point in time,” Lacson said.
Sen. Francis Pangilinan said the ICC findings was expected. “It doesn’t come as a surprise.
It is a bit troubling though that it took over four years of daily killings to find ‘reasonable basis.’ Perhaps, if they acted sooner, thousands of lives could have been saved,” Pangilinan said.
Senate President Vicente Sotto III said it was just the statement of Prosecutor Bensouda that others may not agree with. “That’s what she believes. Some believe otherwise,” Sotto said. – With Raymond Africa