News THE ICC PROBE Duterte's Drug war

Victims, rights groups ecstatic over ICC decision to resume drug war probe

Human rights groups and victims of the Duterte administration’s bloody war on drugs are rejoicing following the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to reject the Philippine government’s appeal to stop the probe, removing obstacles to the full resumption of the controversial investigation.

In an almost 40-minute session on July 18, the ICC Appeals Chamber handed down its decision on the appeal of the government, initiated by the Office of the Solicitor General and assisted by foreign counsel Sarah Bafadhel, to reverse the Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision to resume the drug war probe last Jan. 26.

Drug war victims’ families watch the ICC reject the appeal of the Philippine government. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Drug war victims’ families watch the ICC reject the appeal of the Philippine government. Photo by Vincent Go

“I would like to state that it [appeal] is rejected by the Appeals Chamber by majority and that the impugned decision is therefore confirmed,” Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut of the five-member Appeals Chamber said.

The Chamber, however, did not rule on jurisdiction of the ICC on states which have withdrawn membership from the Rome Statute, the main point of argument by the Philippine government in seeking to stop the probe.

Edre Olalia, Transitional President of International Association of Democratic Lawyers, simplified the Appeals Chamber’s decision: “The majority’s confirmation of the rejection by the Pre-Trial Chamber of the request of the PH government to defer the investigation simply means one thing for the victims: let there be justice even though the pseudo gods fall.”

CenterLaw said “This ICC [d]ecision is also a sobering warning that a State cannot simply escape ICC jurisdiction by its mere withdrawal from the Rome Statute.

“Ultimately, impunity does not pay even in withdrawal.”

The lawyers’ group also said “This ICC [d]ecision is also a call for the Marcos Jr. administration to lend credence to its so-called respect for human rights by fully cooperating with the ICC Prosecutor on the investigation of EJKs committed during the War on Drugs.”


The fight continues

Rise Up for Life and for Rights said the Appeals Chamber’s decision has built the confidence of its members, mostly families and victims of the Duterte administration’s war on drugs, to bring the perpetrators of the killings to justice.

Victims applaud after the ICC announced its decision. (Photo by Vincent Go)
Victims applaud after the ICC announced its decision. Photo by Vincent Go

“They look forward to the ICC indicting the “most responsible”: the masterminds and administrators of a cruel and criminal government policy that targeted killing thousands of poor people,” Rise Up said in its statement. 

Amy Jane Lee, a member of Rise Up, said their members will continue fighting for justice for their loved ones as the ICC probe continues. She said “[s]a totoo, hindi mapapawi ‘yung sakit ng pagkawala dahil lang sa sinabi ngayon ng ICC. Mapapawi ito ng panahon, ng pagkilala at pagpapakumbaba ng mga umagrabyado, at ng pagpapangot sa maysala.

(In truth, the ICC decision will not relieve our pain. It will heal over  time, and through recognition and humility of perpetrators and bring them to justice.)

Patuloy po kaming magsasalita, patuloy po kaming maghahanap ng hustisya, patuloy po kaming lalaban! (We will continue to speak up, to search for justice, and to continue fighting),” Lee added.

Fr. Flavie Villanueva, who runs a program for widows and orphans of drug war victims, also said this was “justice for the victims of former Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs, a war against the poor, a crime against humanity, a massacre and mockery of our judicial system and democracy!”

Walk the talk

Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Bayan (Bagong Alyansang Makabayan) have called on the Marcos administration to walk the talk on its commitment to human rights by cooperating with the ICC.

Families of victims of the Duterte administration’s drug war staged a protest at the Boy Scout Circle in Quezon City following the release of the Appeals Chamber’s decision. Photos by Vincent Go

“The Marcos administration should back up its stated commitment to human rights and the fight against impunity by following through on its international legal obligation to cooperate with the court’s investigation,” HRW Deputy Director for Asia Bryony Lau.

Bayan Secretary-General Renato Reyes said the current administration should stop invoking sovereignty “every time those in power wish to escape accountability under our international treaty obligations, especially for gross human rights violations and crimes against humanity.”

He added the world will be waiting to hear, when President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. delivers his State of the National Address (SONA) on July 24, “that the Philippines would adhere to its human rights obligations and not stonewall the ICC investigations.”

ICC still not welcome

VERA Files has sought the comment of Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra regarding the Appeals Chamber’s decision but has yet to receive a response.

In a statement last July 16, Guevarra seemed to doubt any chance of a favorable ruling for the government, saying “there is no further appeal available to the government” in the event that the chamber ruled otherwise.

Guevarra added that ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan may eventually seek the issuance of warrants of arrest or summons for certain Filipino officials who may be found liable for crimes against humanity in the drug war.

Meanwhile, Justice Secretary Jesus Crispin Remulla reaffirmed on July 17 that the ICC is not welcome to enter the Philippines to investigate, adding that people who want to interfere with a country’s sovereignty have a “political agenda.”

Pagka pakikialam lang ang gagawin nila ay hindi tayo papayag sapagkat may sarili po tayong sistema ng batas, may sarili tayong tradisyon, kapulisan… (If they will only be meddling, we will not allow because we have our own justice system, tradition, police…),” Remulla said.

Sen. Ronald “Bato” Dela Rosa, who was among the personalities named in the request of former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to launch the investigation, said he is not bothered about the chamber’s decision. (Read VP Sara, 2 senators named in ICC probe documents – VERA Files)

Hindi na ako na surprise. Hindi ako concerned. Hindi ako nababagabag. Alam ko naman desidido sila ituloy, eh di ituloy nila, (I’m not surprised. I’m not concerned. I’m not bothered. I know that they are determined to continue),Dela Rosa said.

In June 2022, Khan asked the Pre-Trial Chamber to resume the drug war investigation after it was temporarily suspended in November 2021 upon the Duterte administration’s request for him to defer to local proceedings.

However, Khan argued that the government has failed to prove that it sufficiently mirrors the ICC probe, particularly its lack of investigation into the systematic nature and patterns of drug war killings.

Khan is currently probing the alleged crimes against humanity in the Duterte administration’s drug war from July 2016 to March 16, 2019, when an estimated 12,000 to 30,000 suspected drug personalities died. He is also investigating the killings in the Davao region by the so-called vigilante group Davao Death Squad as early as November 2011 to June 2016.

Related documents:

Judgment on the appeal of the Republic of the Philippines against Pre-Trial Chamber I’s “Authorisation pursuant to article 18(2) of the Statute to resume the investigation”

Dissenting opinion of judge Perrin de Brichambaut and judge Lordkipanidze

Photographs of the hearing