MANILA — A pre-trial chamber of the International Criminal Court has asked the Philippine government and drug war victims and their families to comment on the ICC prosecutor's request to resume its probe on the drug war in the country.
In an order dated July 14, Pre-Trial Chamber I invited the Philippines to "provide observations" by September 8 on ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan’s position that his office be allowed to continue its probe after finding that "the Philippines has not demonstrated that it has investigated or is investigating its nationals or others within its jurisdiction" with respect to crimes cognizable by the international tribunal.
The order was signed by ICC judges Péter Kovács, Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou and María del Socorro Flores Liera, the same set of judges who authorized the ICC prosecutor in September last year to begin its formal probe.
In November 2021, the Philippine government however asked the ICC prosecutor to defer its probe on the drug war killings but after analyzing the documents submitted, Khan now wants the investigation to proceed.
"The Chamber considers it appropriate to invite the Philippines to submit any additional observations arising from the Prosecutor’s Request. If it wishes to do so, the Philippines must submit these additional observations by 8 September 2022 at the latest," the ICC pre-trial chamber said.
Khan, is in turn, given until September 22 to respond to the Philippine government’s comment but only with respect to “factual arguments as to whether the State ‘is investigating or has investigated its nationals or others within its jurisdiction with respect to criminal acts which may constitute crimes referred to in article 5 and which relate to the information provided in the notification to States’.”
Article 5 of the Rome Statute lists down the crimes within ICC’s jurisdiction — genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and the crime of aggression.
The ICC prosecutor is looking at whether crimes against humanity of murder, among other crimes, were committed in the Philippine drug war which were widespread or systematic attacks against a civilian population in accordance with State policy.
Former Justice secretary, now Solicitor General Menardo Guevarra had said Khan “should have waited” for the outcome of the probe of Philippine authorities, referring to the DOJ’s drug war review.
"An investigation of this magnitude and complexity cannot be finished in a few months," he said.
The DOJ has so far conducted two drug war reviews since February 2020 but so far, only a matrix of 52 cases has been released, which the ICC prosecutor rejected as mere "desk review."
DRUG WAR VICTIMS' COMMENTS SOUGHT
The ICC pre-trial chamber also gave drug war victims, their families and legal representatives until September 8 to voice their concerns and views, noting that their personal interests might be affected by the chamber's ruling.
The ICC had previously asked comments from drug war victims and their families as to the Philippine government's ability and willingness to investigate crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction.
"The Chamber therefore instructs the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (the 'VPRS') to liaise with victims and their legal representatives, if any, to collect any additional or different views or concerns related to the Prosecutor's Request, and to prepare a short report summarizing those views and concerns," the ICC pre-trial chamber said.
"The victims' views and concerns on the Prosecutor’s Request must be submitted to the VPRS by 8 September 2022. The VPRS is instructed to submit to the Chamber all the views and concerns received by that date, together with a report, by 22 September 2022 at the latest," it added.
The ICC pre-trial chamber however did not find it necessary to hold a hearing on the matter.
More than 6,000 drug suspects have been killed in police operations in the country during former President Rodrigo Duterte’s term, but rights groups estimate the figure could go as high as 30,000, taking into account those killed by vigilantes and unknown perpetrators.
In February 2018, then-ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination on the situation in the Philippines, following submissions by various international and domestic rights groups expressing concern over the drug war killings.