By DAWN CECILIA PEÑA
MANILA – A group of human rights lawyers in the Philippines said that the “overwhelming support” that the International Criminal Court received from approximately 1,530 individual victims and 1,050 families who fell victims of the government’s “war on drugs” may lead to a formal investigation.
“We are confident that with this clamor for justice and President Duterte’s weak arguments to avoid accountability, the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber will ultimately grant the [Office of the Prosecutor’s] recommendation for formal investigation of all who are involved in these heinous crimes,” said National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers Chairperson Neri Colmenares.
The Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) of the ICC publicly requested to initiate an investigation into crimes allegedly committed in the country between November 2011 and March 2019 in the context of the Philippine government’s “war on drugs” campaign.
As per the ICC’s legal framework, “victims of the above-mentioned crimes allegedly committed in the Philippines Situation have the right to submit ‘representations’ to provide their views, concerns and expectations, to the ICC judges who are considering the OTP’s request.”
At present, 204 representations have been assessed by the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS), where 200 representations were assessed as collective, and four as individuals.
At least 94 percent of these submissions indicated that the victims want the Prosecutor to investigate the crimes committed in the context of the war on drugs, while two percent of representations did not want an investigation. Four percent, or approximately seven representations provided unclear information as to whether or not the victims want an investigation to be authorized.
“[The representations] also bring forward the victims’ views and concerns on the [Office of the Prosecutor’s] request and on other related matters, including justice, the ICC, the potential scope of an investigation, and the impact of the so-called “war on drugs” has on victims’ lives and their society,” said the ICC on their statement.
Crimes against humanity
Apart from extrajudicial killings, other potential crimes against humanity were allegedly committed according to the submissions to the VPRS.
Attempted murder, imprisonment or other severe deprivation of liberty, rape and other forms of sexual violence, enforced disappearance of persons, torture, and other inhumane acts were allegedly executed during the war on drugs campaign.
“The crimes reported in the Transmitted Representations were allegedly committed by the police, and unidentified men usually wearing civilian clothes, bonnets, mask, and who, in a number of cases, rode in tandem when committing the alleged crimes,” said the ICC in their report.
In addition, the types of harm reported in the presentations by both direct and indirect victims include physical, psychological, material, social harm, as well as a substantial impairment of fundamental rights.
The VPRS also noted that while there are only three representation reports of rape and other acts of sexual violence, this type of crime is severely underreported because of fear and the stigma associated with it.
The ICC cited an Inquirer.net report saying, “with killings becoming rampant in the government’s war on drugs, potential victims have become more vulnerable, they now tend to give in more easily to demands for sexual favors, if only to ensure their safety or that of a family member.”
In a statement, Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a network of families of victims of the government’s war on drugs, said the overwhelming support for the ICC is rooted in their quest for justice.
“We look forward to the ICC’s next steps — no matter how long it takes — in order to seek justice for our loved ones starting with Duterte’s prosecution and all his cohorts,” said Deaconess Rubylin G. Litao, coordinator of Rise Up for Life and for Rights.
Investigate activist killings too
Colmenares also appealed to the ICC to include in their investigation the killings and arrests of activists who are at the forefront of the battle against the administration’s “war on drugs.”
“Many activists and activist organizations have been actively condemning President Duterte’s “War on Drugs” and human rights violations, and it is legitimate that the ICC also consider these murders and inhumane acts. We ask the ICC to decide soon as the killings and arrests continue without let up,” he explained. (JJE, RVO)