ICC finds “reasonable basis” for crimes vs humanity in Duterte’s drug war

The Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) said on Tuesday that it has found “reasonable basis to believe” that crimes against humanity were committed in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs campaign.

In an update dated Dec. 14, the ICC said, however, that it “anticipates” to decide on opening the preliminary investigation proper in the “first half of 2021.”

The report specified crimes of murder, torture, and infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as “inhumane acts” that were committed between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, in connection with the anti-drug campaign of the Duterte administration.

The ICC, under the office of Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, committed to “closely monitor” as it has been “following with concern” reports of threats, killings and other measures apparently taken against human rights defenders, journalists and others, including those who have criticized Duterte’s war on drugs.

Lawyer Romel Bagares, one of the trustees of the Philippine Coalition for ICC, said that based on the report, Bensouda has identified “for the first time” the international crimes committed in the Philippine drug war.

In a Facebook post, Bagares said the prosecutor may be nearing the conclusion of the probe. “This may well indicate the OTP [Office of the Prosecutor] managed to complete the third stage at least — the complementarity question, and is now proceeding with the last phase, the “interest of justice” part of the preliminary examination,” he said.

Reacting to the report, Palace spokesman Harry Roque curtly said: "There's no reason for the ICC prosecutor to proceed."

Bensouda’s office began a “preliminary investigation” in February 2018 to “analyze” crimes allegedly committed under the bloody war on drugs in which at least 5,000 people have been reported killed in police raids.

Apparently as a consequence of the ICC probe, the Duterte administration withdrew from the Rome Statute in March 2019.

Bensouda’s office was supposed to conclude its preliminary investigation this month, but it said “the COVID-19 pandemic and capacity constraints” prevented it from doing so. Nevertheless, it said it “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.”

Former senator Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of Duterte, said “the time for reckoning is near” for Duterte, his cohorts and enablers. “They have to answer for the thousands of Filipino lives killed during his brutal war on drugs,” he said. “Duterte may try to ignore the jurisdiction of ICC over him, but deep inside he knows that he cannot get away from this one. Having profiled Duterte, I am sure nanginginig na ‘yan sa takot (shaking from fear),” Trillanes added. With reports from Ivel John M. Santos

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