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Families of drug war victims seek permission to air side on PH appeal vs. ICC probe

Some 90 relatives of victims of the war on drugs of the Duterte administration have requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to allow them to respond to the Philippine government’s appeal to suspend the court’s investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed during the bloody campaign.

“The [a]pplicants therefore request that they be permitted to present their views and concerns in the [a]ppeal by submitting a response to the appeal brief by the Government of the Philippines and the application for suspensive effect within the applicable timelines,” the families said in their application to the ICC’s Appeals Chamber.

The Office of Public Counsel for Victims (OPCV), an independent office in the ICC that provides support and assistance to legal representatives for victims of court cases, also asked for permission to participate in the proceedings through a 35-page observation report on the appeal brief to be filed by the Philippine government to the ICC by March 13.

The OPCV, which can also be appointed as a legal representative of victims, said it is compelled to intervene in the case because “[v]ictims of the crimes committed in the Situation in the Republic of the Philippines, along with their families, have a the right to obtain justice; to know the truth about the events they suffered, and to be redressed.”

“The appeal is directed against the whole decision authori[z]ing the resumption of the investigation. As such, the issues on appeal fundamentally affect the general interest of the victims,” it noted. “A reversal of the Impugned Decision on appeal may in fact result in halting the Prosecutor’s investigation, thereby jeopardi[z]ng the victims’ rights to truth, justice and reparations.”

The families submitted their request, along with two confidential annexes and a public redacted version of Annex I, on Feb. 17 to the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS), an office under the Registry.

(See ICC prosecutor asks for denial of PH request to suspend probe on drug war crimes; OSG seeks extension to file appeal and ICC grants PH government’s request to extend deadline for filing of appeal brief)

The Registry, a neutral office that provides administrative support to the ICC’s different offices, said it had transmitted the application  to the Appeals Chamber on Feb. 21. However, it redacted the name of the person or group that submitted the appeal on behalf of the victims. The name of the legal representative nominated by the victims to represent them before the ICC was likewise removed.

“In light of the threats to the physical and psychological safety of the [a]pplicants and the submitting entity, this application and its [a]nnex are filed confidentially ex parte only available to the Registry,” the families, which include parents, children, cousins and other relatives of victims of drug-related killings by the police and non-state actors, noted in their application.

The families indicated that some of them have been tortured by the police as a result of the drug war. Those who suffered from harm, such as emotional trauma or material loss, are also considered victims under the VPRS of the Registry.

In its application, the OPCV listed the core issues in the government’s appeal that could trample on the rights of the victims and their families. These are the application of the gravity criterion, the ICC jurisdiction in the Philippines, and the complementary assessment on the lack of effort of the government to investigate the alleged crimes against humanity that arise from the government’s appeal to reverse the Jan. 26  decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber to resume the drug war probe.

If the Appeals Chamber grants their request, it would be the third time that the victims and their families have been allowed to present their side in the proceedings of the Netherlands-based court.

The Pre-Trial Chamber I, a separate judicial branch in the ICC, allowed victims to submit their observations on the request in May 2021 of former ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to launch an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s anti-drug campaign from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019 and the killings and other related crimes in the Davao region as early as Nov. 1, 2011. Victims also participated in the consultation on the Philippine government’s request for the ICC to defer its investigation in November 2021.

(See VERA FILES FACT SHEET: Five things about the ICC report on victims’ representations and ICC chamber invites victims, PHL government to submit ‘views, concerns’ on call to resume drug war probe)

On Feb. 3, the Philippine government submitted a notice of appeal to the Appeals Chamber seeking to reverse the decision of the Pre-Trial Chamber allowing ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to resume the drug war investigation. The government has until March 13 to submit a brief substantiating its appeal. (Philippine government seeks to block resumption of ICC drug war probe)