The administration of President Rodrigo Duterte has been hounded with human rights issues, which date back to his tenure as mayor of Davao City. In the last year of his six-year term, Duterte is leaving his war on drugs, where 6,117 drug suspects were killed by the police, as legacy— one that the International Criminal Court (ICC) seeks to investigate.
Rights groups have long been clamoring for a thorough investigation on the Philippines’s drug war. Individuals that were killed in the government’s crackdown have been on a drug watch list or have previously surrendered to police. A significant number of victims were minors. (Read: Remembering the 9 Activists Who Died on ‘Bloody Sunday’)
In 2019, the ICC launched a preliminary examination on the war on drugs. This prompted the Philippines to leave the ICC, the second country to do so, saying that the Philippine government had enough mechanisms in place to ensure that the justice system functioned properly.
Years later, Fatou Bensouda, ICC chief prosecutor, sought a full investigation into the crimes against humanity during the war on drugs. This was one of her last acts before she stepped down on Tuesday and was succeeded by Mr. Karim Khan.
“I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed,” Bensouda said in a statement. (Read: Pope Appeals for Peace and Reconciliation in Eastern Ukraine)
She also stressed that “the available information indicates that members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousand and tens of thousands of civilians” during the period under investigation.
But what really is the weight and importance of this investigation? My Pope Philippines gathered three questions that the community has on ICC’s move!
What is the International Criminal Court?
The ICC seeks to hold to account those guilty of some of the world’s worst crimes. It is the world’s only permanent international court. However, the ICC is not a substitute to national courts and can only intervene when a country is unable or unwilling to genuinely carry out an investigation and prosecute the perpetrators.
The Malacañang said the Philippines is no longer under ICC’s jurisdiction. How will this affect investigations?
While the Philippine government insists that the ICC cannot hold a probe because of the withdrawal, Param-Preet Singh of the International Justice Program of Human Rights Watch said that the ICC can still conduct a probe because the alleged crimes happened before the country withdrew its membership in the Rome Statute— the treaty that created the ICC.
Moreover, Singh argued this isn’t the first time that a country is uncooperative with the investigation. (Read: Bishop Welcomes ICC Probe Into Duterte’s War on Drugs)
“The challenge would be to build the case and to establish the evidence and build credible cases from the outside, through deaths per community, bringing victims and witnesses outside of the country to provide evidence to build the respective cases,” Singh said.
What happens when an investigation is launched?
In order to investigate, the ICC prosecutor must conclude that the alleged crimes are of “sufficient gravity,” and preserve the collected evidence. If an arrest warrant or summons are sent out, it must first be approved by the judiciary, while a group of pretrial judges will decide whether the case should be brought to trial.
Defendants may seek outside counsel to represent them. Once convicted, they will be held in a facility in the Hague until such time that they are to be transferred to a national facility.