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ICC denies PH request to suspend drug war investigation

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has thrown out the government’s request to suspend its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, removing one hurdle for the resumption of the probe. 

“In the absence of persuasive reasons in support of ordering suspensive effect, the Appeals Chamber rejects the request. This is without prejudice to its eventual decision on the merits of the Philippines’ appeal against the Impugned Decision,” the ICC’s Appeal Chamber stated in an eight-page decision dated March 27.

The five-member Chamber noted that the Office of the Solicitor General (OSG), failed to substantiate its claim that  the ICC lacked jurisdiction over the investigation that would create an irreversible situation and have far-reaching consequences that would be “difficult to correct.”  

Kristina Conti, an assisting counsel for drug war victims, welcomed the decision of the chamber:  “We are reassured by the decision of the Appeals Chamber of the ICC on the Philippines’ request to suspend the investigation pending its appeal, and on the victims’ involvement. So far, the ICC proceedings [are] on track and aligned with our search for genuine justice for the victims of grave rights violation.”

Conti said the ICC’s latest decision exposed the government’s alleged “farcical and repetitive” arguments.

This is the second blow to the government’s efforts to stop the controversial ICC investigation. In a decision released last week, the Appeals Chamber allowed victims of the bloody campaign to submit their statements on the OSG’s appeal to reverse an earlier decision allowing the resumption of the probe into heinous crimes during the administration of former president Rodrigo Duterte from July 1, 2016 to March 16, 2019 and the 2011-2016 Davao Death Squad killings. (See ICC lets victims participate in appeal proceedings of drug probe, denies PH access to their identities)

While the government was given access to all filings on the case, the Chamber refused to provide information on the identities of those who file their statements.  

In its most recent decision, the Appeal Chamber noted the government’s failure to promptly include its arguments on the suspension request when the OSG submitted the notice of appeal on Feb. 3, doing so only when it filed an Appeal Brief on March 13.  

In response to the OSG’s notice,  ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan had argued in a Feb. 16 response that a suspension is “not necessary in the circumstances of this case.”  He noted that there is no irreversible situation that would be very difficult to correct or could defeat the purpose of the appeal. (See ICC prosecutor asks for denial of PH request to suspend probe on drug war crimes; OSG seeks extension to file appeal)   

The Chamber has not yet decided on the government’s appeal which presented four arguments to support its position, including the alleged lack of jurisdiction of the Netherlands-based court and the alleged failure to place the burden of proof on the prosecutor. (See PH notes errors in ICC ruling on drug probe, presses for reversal)  

If the Chamber grants the Philippine petition for reversal, Khan said his office would discontinue any relevant investigation into the drug-related killings and other crimes.