ICC prosecutor finds 'reasonable basis' for alleged crimes against humanity in Duterte drug war

Jamaine Punzalan, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Dec 15 2020 10:35 AM | Updated as of Dec 15 2020 03:32 PM

ICC prosecutor finds 'reasonable basis' for alleged crimes against humanity in Duterte drug war 1
President Rodrigo Duterte presides over the 49th Cabinet Meeting at Malacañan Palace on December 14, 2020. The President called a meeting to discuss pressing issues and updates from government agencies. Karl Norman Alonzo, Presidential Photo

Malacañang shrugs off report, says ICC no longer has jurisdiction over PH

MANILA (UPDATE) — The International Criminal Court's (ICC) Office of the Prosecutor has found "reasonable basis" to believe that President Rodrigo Duterte's 4-year-old anti-narcotics drive spawned crimes against humanity. 

But Malacañang said the tribunal would waste resources if it pursues its inquiry into the war on drugs, saying the ICC had no jurisdiction over the Philippines following its withdrawal last year from the body.

According to the "Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2020", ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda's office opened in February 2018 a preliminary probe into the slay of thousands of suspected drug users and peddlers in the Philippines, including those killed for allegedly resisting arrest or allegedly gunned down by law enforcers disguised as vigilantes. 

"The Office is satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder (article 7(1)(a)), torture (article 7(1)(f)) and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane Acts (article 7(1)(k)) were committed on the territory of the Philippines between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, in connection to the WoD campaign launched throughout the country," Bensouda said in the report released Tuesday.

It said the preliminary examination focused on allegations that Duterte and senior members of law enforcement agencies and other government bodies "actively promoted and encouraged the killing of suspected or purported drug users and/or dealers, and in such context, members of law enforcement, including particularly the PNP, and unidentified assailants have carried out thousands of unlawful killings throughout the Philippines."

The report noted that many of the persons targeted "had been included on drug watch lists compiled by national and/or local authorities, and some of those targeted also included persons who had previously ‘surrendered’ to the police in connection with Oplan Tokhang."

Bensouda said the COVID-19 pandemic and "capacity constraints" delayed her office's goal to conclude its preliminary examination of Duterte's drug war. 

"Nonetheless, the Office anticipates reaching a decision on whether to seek authorisation to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines in the first half of 2021," she said.

The Philippines in March 2019 quit the ICC, though the world's only permanent war crimes tribunal pledged to pursue its examination of alleged illegal killings in Duterte's drug war. 

"Hindi po natin kinikilala ang hurisdiksyon ng ICC, at desisyon mismo ng ICC... Sayang lang ang pera at oras," Harry Roque, Duterte's spokesperson, said of Bensouda's report. 

(We do not recognize the jurisdiction of the ICC and its decision. It will just be a waste of funds and time.)

The ICC, he said, has dropped a previous investigation where its member-state did not cooperate.

"Bahala po ang prosecutor kung gusto niyang magkaroon na naman ng pangalawang ruling na hindi pupuwedeng mag-imbestiga kung walang kooperasyon," Roque said. 

(It's up to the prosecutor if she wants a second ruling that the ICC cannot investigate if there is no cooperation.)

Early this month, Duterte told law enforcers and prosecutors to "never waver" in the fight against the narcotics trade despite the COVID-19 pandemic.

He also repeated his accusation that rights defenders are "preoccupied" with the life of criminals, his advice for law enforcers to shoot suspects who fight back, and his promise to take responsibility for deaths in operations.

The government has many times said those slain in anti-drug operations had violently resisted arrest, prompting operatives to open fire and defend themselves. 

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