war on drugs

ICC drug war probe gives victims’ kin ‘chance to regain dignity’

Jodesz Gavilan
ICC drug war probe gives victims’ kin ‘chance to regain dignity’

JUSTICE. Human rights groups condemn the killings under President Rodrigo Duterte's admininstration.

File photo by Jire Carreon/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Human rights groups hail the decision to open a full investigation into drug war killings as a step against impunity in Duterte's Philippines

Human rights groups welcomed the decision of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation into the drug war killings under President Rodrigo Duterte, signaling what could be a step towards accountability that is missing in the Philippines.

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber on late Wednesday, September 15, said there is reasonable basis for Prosecutor Karim Khan to start an investigation “in the sense that the crime against humanity of murder appears to have been committed, and that potential case(s) arising from such investigation appear to fall within the Court’s jurisdiction.”

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) said that the decision of ICC pre-trial chamber “removes all doubt as to the gravity of the crimes” committed by the state, especially under the violent war on drugs. 

“Duterte along with his co-accused henchmen of the war on drugs will be facing justice, and the relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings and other atrocious human rights violations would have a real chance of regaining their dignity,” the group said.

“At this point it is in the best interest of the government to fully cooperate with the ICC, to avoid any perception that it is shielding a criminal from international justice,” it added. 

‘Reaffirms’ victims, families

This move by ICC arrives as Duterte’s bloody anti-illegal drugs campaign has killed at least 6,181 suspected drug personalities in police operations alone as of July 31. Human rights groups estimate the deaths to be between 27,000 to 30,000 to include victims of extrajudicial killings.

The ICC’s decision “offers a much needed check on [Duterte] and his deadly war on drugs,” Human Rights Watch senior Philippine researcher Carlos Conde said.

Rights group Karapatan, meanwhile, said the views of the chamber that the killings were widespread and systematic “likewise reaffirms the views of victims and their families.”

“Duterte and his cohorts should be made accountable for these crimes,” Karapatan secretary-general Cristina Palabay said.

Domestic efforts to investigate and hold perpetrators responsible have been slow moving, if not moving at all. Families themselves have a hard time obtaining documents to even help investigations, while many are also afraid of possible repercussions if they seek justice. (READ: In Duterte’s drug war, justice is ‘nearly impossible’)

Amnesty International secretary general and former United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard said the ICC decision to open an investigation offers victims a chance for justice as the Philippines continues to be “beset by a pervasive culture of impunity.”

“The ICC pre-trial chamber’s announcement sends a clear message to the perpetrators and architects of these crimes that they will not escape accountability,” she said in a statement. “No one is above the law.”

Christian Buenafe, chairperson of the Task Force Detainees of the Philippines, said the move is a “crack in the shield of impunity,” providing hope for those left behind.

“Perpetrators, beware. We will hound you until justice is done,” he said.

In a June 2020 report, the United Nations rights office said that the local system in the Philippines is not enough to exalt accountability over the killings. – Rappler.com

Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and also hosts the weekly podcast Newsbreak: Beyond the Stories. She joined Rappler in 2014 after obtaining her journalism degree from the University of the Philippines.