'Killings continue': Rights group urge ICC to open investigation of drug war

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights group Rise Up for Life and Rights on Thursday, October 3, submitted a supplemental communication to the International Criminal Court (ICC) urging its prosecutor to start an investigation into the high number of drug war killings in the Philippines.

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into the drug war killings in February 2018, the first step in the ICC stage which merely establishes jurisidiction, and a process that has taken years in some cases.

The next step would be an investigation, where ICC judges could issue warrants of arrest.

In their pleading, Rise Up submitted new data to prove that "killings continue" as the examination was taking place.

"We urge the speedy disposition of our case in the hope that said decision may stem the rising number of deaths. Complainants respectfully reiterate the prayer in the original complaint, and stress on the urgent need to open an investigation into crimes against humanity in the Philippines," Rise Up said.

Bensouda will establish jurisdiction if she determines that the Philippine justice system is unable or unwilling to investigate the killings itself. Data has shown how the Duterte government has allowed thousands of cases of killings to go unsolved.

"Should, at the conclusion of the preliminary examination process, the Prosecutor decide to proceed with an investigation, authorization from a Pre-Trial Chamber of the Court would be required," the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) told Rappler in an earlier email.

The OTP added, "The Court's judges would then make an independent assessment as to whether the statutory criteria for the opening of an investigation are met."

New data

Since examinations were opened in February 2018, the government has updated its data to say that as of June 30, 2019, there have been 5,526 drug suspects killed in legitimate police operations.

Human rights organizations peg the total death toll to more than 27,000.

Rise Up also told the ICC prosecutor of the government's efforts to have mandatory drug testing for students, and the pending bills to lower the minimum criminal age of responsibility to 12 years old.

"There are immense risks upon children who have witnessed acts of violence, children who are orphaned and traumatized, those at constant risk of direct physical harm due to their presence in identified 'drug areas,' and those who experience discrimination from their communities because their fathers or mothers are accused of drug use," Rise Up told the ICC.

One of Rise Up's petitioners is Normita Lopez, mother of Djastin Lopez. The Office of the Ombudsman had ordered the filing of murder charges against Lopez's killer, a cop.

UNHRC resolution

RiseUp said that Bensouda should work with the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) which earlier opened its own inquiry into the killings in the drug war.

President Rodrigo Duterte has threatened both ICC and the UNHRC presidents that they would be barred entry to the Philippines.

"The Prosecutor may find it nearly impossible to visit the Philippines; and on the other hand, complainants are pressed for resources to participate in case-building at the ICC headquarters at The Hague," said Rise Up.

The group added, "Given the circumstances, complainants urge the Honorable Prosecutor to cooperate with the UNHRC in their parallel investigations, to share information as may be necessary for the respective objectives of the two organizations."

A dozen communications submitted to the ICC accuse Duterte of committing crimes against humanity over the killings in the campaign against illegal drugs.

The Philippine Supreme Court is still tackling two petitions seeking to declare the drug war unconstitutional. The High Court had compelled the submission of police reports related to the deaths, but one of the petitioner groups which had gone over the reports called them "rubbish."

Rise Up said that this was an indication that "domestic remedies and efforts at a national inquiry have largely failed."

Duterte has withdrawn the Philippines from the ICC in response to the preliminary examination. – Rappler.com

Lian Buan

Lian Buan covers justice and corruption for Rappler. She is interested in decisions, pleadings, audits, contracts, and other documents that establish a trail. If you have leads, email lian.buan@rappler.com or tweet @lianbuan.