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ICC has ‘sufficient’ basis for full probe into PH drug-war killings, says rights lawyer

Police operatives investigate the lifeless body of John Estrella, 18, who was found dead along a riverside road near the Manila Central Post Office in Manila, Philippines on Monday, June 27, 2017. Police reports said that the victim resisted arrest and that drug paraphernalia were recovered from the body. Basilio H. Sepe, ABS-CBN News/File

MANILA—Outgoing International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has "sufficient" basis to request for a full investigation into drug-war killings in the Philippines, an international human rights lawyer said Tuesday.
Speaking to ANC's "Rundown," lawyer Ruben Carranza said Bensouda's 57-page request was "detailed and heavily supported by facts."

"In this case, in the Philippine situation, reading the 57-page request filed by the prosecutor, it is so detailed, heavily supported by facts, containing enough detail involving individuals who were killed in the drug war and enough detail of the aggregate number of individuals who were killed and tortured as well in the drug war," Carranza said.

Though the ICC's track record has been "mixed," Carranza believed "there is significant and sufficient basis for the pretrial chamber to authorize an investigation." 

In a statement Monday, Bensouda said she had requested for judicial authorization to proceed with investigation on the situation in the Philippines, saying crimes against humanity could have been committed.

“On the basis of that work, I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines ‘war on drugs’ campaign,” she said.

Bensouda also included in the request for investigation the events in Davao since 2011, noting that the same types of actors also allegedly committed strikingly similar crimes in the city and region of Davao, starting in 1988 and continuing through 2016.

Under ICC rules, a prosecutor shall request for authorization from the Pre-Trial Chamber if there is reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.

Carranza, a senior expert of the New York-based International Center for Transitional Justice, said the prosecutor's request was "extremely significant" years after the ICC looked into President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs.

This is the stage where suspects will be potentially named by the prosecutor and summons or warrants of arrest will be issued by the Pre-Trial chamber, Carranza said.

"It is the stage where Filipinos will definitely find out who will be charged for what and at what point a trial might begin," he added.

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Though Bensouda leaves office this week, her successor, British lawyer Karim Khan, can still proceed with the investigation, Carranza said, adding: "Karim Khan has been to the Philippines. Karim Khan is aware of the Philippine situation even prior to becoming prosecutor."

Asked how the Philippine government has responded since the ICC began preliminary examination on Duterte's anti-narcotics crackdown, Carranza said: "The Duterte government has so far responded by denying on one hand the authority of ICC to proceed and yet on the other hand trying to stave off the ICC from proceeding."

In March 2018, Duterte canceled the Philippines’ membership of the ICC’s founding treaty just weeks after Bensouda announced the preliminary examination was under way. He said the ICC was prejudiced against him.

Under the ICC’s withdrawal mechanism the court keeps jurisdiction over crimes committed during the membership period of a state, in this case between 2016 and 2019 when the Philippines’ pullout became official.

Carranza said the Philippines' justice and foreign affairs secretaries had been trying to convince countries in the United Nations Human Rights Council not to create separate investigation.

"The actions of justice secretary and the actions of foreign affairs secretary indicate that the Philippine government, perhaps even the Philippine president, are aware they are in jeopardy of being charged," he said. "Even if they are not going to be charge soon or tried soon, they could face punishment for crimes against humanity." - With a report from Reuters