International Criminal Court

ICC: Victims, families can participate in drug war proceedings

Jodesz Gavilan

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ICC: Victims, families can participate in drug war proceedings

JUSTICE. Photos of drug war victims are displayed during a Mass in 2017.

The International Criminal Court's appeals chamber rejects an earlier move by the Philippine government to block 'views and concerns' of victims and their families

MANILA, Philippines – The International Criminal Court (ICC) has allowed families of victims to comment on the Philippine government’s appeal against the ongoing investigation into Rodrigo Duterte’s violent war on drugs.

In a decision dated Tuesday, March 21, the ICC’s appeals chamber instructed the Victims Participation and Reparations Section (VPRS) to “collect and transmit… representations from any interested victims and victim groups” which should be included in a report to be submitted by May 22, 2023.

It also said that the ICC’s Office of Public Counsel for Victims may submit written observations “in relation to the general interests of victims” by April 18, 2023.

“The Appeals Chamber considers it appropriate for victims to be involved in these appeal proceedings,” it said.

The inclusion of victims’ views came, following the request of 90 applicants “to present views and concerns in the present appeal proceedings,” as any decision whether or not to pursue an investigation “has an immediate and direct effect on their personal interests.”

The ICC appeals chamber quoted the victims’ request which said that they “have not been able to obtain justice and remedies for the crimes committed against their family members.”

By considering the views of the victims, the ICC chamber’s decision rejects the earlier move of the Philippine government to block the victims’ participation in the proceedings.

This is the latest development in the ICC proceedings in relation to Duterte’s drug war, which killed at least 6,252 individuals in police anti-illegal drug operations alone as of May 2022. This number does not include those killed vigilante-style, which human rights groups estimate to be between 27,000 and 30,000. 

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber recently authorized the resumption of an investigation into Duterte’s violent flagship project, a decision the Philippine government appealed. In its appeal brief dated March 13, the Office of the Solicitor General said ICC proceedings would lack legal foundation and “encroach on the
sovereignty” of the country. The Marcos government has continuously used the sovereignty issue in its opposition to an ICC probe.

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Human rights lawyer Kristina Conti welcomed the ICC chamber’s latest decision, saying that “maintaining the victim’s right to be heard is a good cornerstone” which could empower victims “who have so long struggled to be seen and recognized” in the Philippines.

“They are doubly traumatized – first, by the killing, the arrest, the torture or the abuse, and then the victim-blaming and -shaming,” she told Rappler on Wednesday, March 22.

“Coming before a court that promises to listen and take their views seriously is a welcome opportunity both for accountability and healing – which are, we must point out, avenues that do not seem to be not available domestically,” Conti, secretary-general of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers-National Capital Region, added.

Families have long pinned their hopes on international mechanisms, particularly the ICC, to give justice to their loved ones who were slain under Duterte, even as they continue to face challenges, including harassment from the police.

Only three have been convicted so far in relation to the drug war – policemen involved in the killing of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos and the deaths of Carl Angelo Arnaiz and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.

A previous report by the ICC Registry’s Victims Participation and Reparations Section stated that victims “overwhelmingly support an investigation” into Duterte’s drug war. At least 94% of the victims consulted wanted the ICC prosecutor to investigate crimes, while some wanted perpetrators identified and brought to justice. They also wanted an end to impunity and the prevention of future crimes. –

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Jodesz Gavilan

Jodesz Gavilan is a writer and researcher for Rappler and its investigative arm, Newsbreak. She covers human rights and impunity beats, producing in-depth and investigative reports particularly on the quest for justice of victims of former president Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs and war on dissent.