Global rights group wants ICC to ‘expedite’ request to probe Duterte’s drug war

A panel of 18 human rights experts from all over the world is urging the International Criminal Court (ICC) to decide quickly on a pending request to open a full-blown probe into President Rodrigo Duterte’s bloody war on drugs, stressing the “lack of effective domestic remedies” for human rights victims in the country.

The Independent International Commission of Investigation into Human Rights Violations in the Philippines (INVESTIGATE PH) made the call as the organization of various civil society groups launched on Sept. 13 its third and final report. The panel, which started examining 50 cases involving around 100 human rights victims in December 2020, had released its first two reports in March and July 2021.

The 76-page final report concluded that human rights violations such as torture, unjust detention and killings, under the Duterte administration have intensified even during the COVID-19 pandemic because of its “anti-people” and “neoliberal” policies. It cited the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2020, the heavily militarized pandemic response, and crackdown on “radical labor infiltration” of trade unions as examples.

“We want to see expedited the recommendation of the former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who should be investigating the crime against humanity of murder, which is being committed on the territory of the Philippines,” Janet Rice, INVESTIGATE PH Commissioner and a senator in the Australian Parliament, said.

INVESTIGATE PH Core Working Group Chairperson Peter Murphy (top right) discussed with commissioners Chris Ferguson (top left), Janet Rice (bottom right) and Lee Rhianon (bottom left) the findings of their final report in a Sept. 13 virtual forum.

INVESTIGATE PH Core Working Group Chairperson Peter Murphy (top right) discussed with commissioners Chris Ferguson (top left), Janet Rice (bottom right) and Lee Rhiannon (bottom left) the findings of their final report in a Sept. 13 virtual forum.

Last June 14, a day before she retired as ICC prosecutor, Bensouda announced that she had filed a request the previous month to the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed under the Philippine government’s campaign against illegal drugs from November 1, 2011 to March 16, 2019. The chamber judges have not yet released their decision on the matter. (See Gov’t officials, police conspired to carry out Duterte’s war on drugs — ICC prosecutor – Vera Files)

“The release of the Final Report is timely as it follows the request by the outgoing Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda for an investigation on the bloody “war on drugs” of [Duterte] and the recent ICC Registry Report which says 94% of the victims’ families want the ICC to investigate the drug war campaign,” INVESTIGATE PH said.

It added that “because of the government’s neoliberal economic program, landlessness and unemployment have increased, poverty has widened, and extrajudicial killings of civilians by state forces in these five-and-a-half years have long surpassed those during the fourteen years of the notorious Marcos Dictatorship.”

INVESTIGATE PH claimed that state forces had killed 394 people for “political reasons” as of March 2021. These include 316 peasant and fisherfolk leaders, 71 indigenous leaders, 58 trade union leaders, 47 Moro leaders, 19 human rights workers, seven from the church, and 57 women.

“State security forces have been the perpetrators, which explains why normal remedies for victims of making a complaint to the police have utterly failed,” the group said. “This is why the Filipino people had to take their complaints to the [ICC], which has decided to take action in its own lengthy process.”

INVESTIGATE PH Commissioner Lee Rhiannon, a former Australian senator, stressed that Filipinos need the help of the international community to stop the human rights violations as he noted the “total failure of domestic remedies to address the abuses.”

“I firmly believe that these three reports now will help drive momentum to achieving that global voice … [and] the Philippines needs to be given our support to come back to some decency in terms of how its people are treated,” Rhiannon said.

INVESTIGATE PH Commissioner and general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches Chris Ferguson pointed out that pressure from the international community for Duterte to stop the abuses “has been insufficient and weak”.

“And so when you say Duterte has been ignoring international pressure, I think that … [it] will be understandable that international pressure isn’t just about rhetoric. But it’s actually using all the mechanisms that are at our disposal,” Ferguson said.

He added that the group’s final report could serve as a “clarion call” for the international community “to actually hold this government to account.” He also said that ICC “will be strengthened deeply by the depth and breadth and clarity” of the report.

INVESTIGATE PH renewed calls on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to likewise authorize an independent investigation into thousands of alleged human rights violations. (See UN body seeks impartial probe of killings, scrapping of ‘Oplan Tokhang’ – Vera Files and UN rights experts call on ICC to complete probe of Duterte’s drug war – Vera Files)

In October 2020, human rights groups expressed dismay at the decision of the UNHRC, where the Philippines is a member, to offer “technical assistance” to the government in order to improve the human rights situation in the country. (See UN body offers technical aid to Duterte admin to improve PH human rights situation – Vera Files)

“It is imperative that the [c]ouncil heed the Filipino people’s call to conduct a probe on the rights violation under the Duterte administration amid impunity and failure of domestic mechanisms to provide redress to victims and hold perpetrators accountable,” INVESTIGATE PH Commissioner Jeanne Mirer urged.

INVESTIGATE PH will submit its final report to the ICC, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), member states of the UNHRC, and UN Secretary-General António Guterres. Here’s a copy of the report.