International Criminal Court

After ICC junks PH gov’t appeal, kin of drug war victims feel ‘closer to justice’

Jodesz Gavilan

This is AI generated summarization, which may have errors. For context, always refer to the full article.

After ICC junks PH gov’t appeal, kin of drug war victims feel ‘closer to justice’

JUSTICE. In this file photo, mourners raise placards as Kian Loyd delos Santos is laid to rest on August 26, 2017.

LeAnne Jazul/Rappler

(1st UPDATE) Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a group of families, says the ICC ruling builds confidence with those victimized by Rodrigo Duterte's violent war on drugs

MANILA, Philippines – Human rights groups welcomed the rejection by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of the Philippine government’s bid to block the continuation of an investigation into Davao City killings and other drug war-related deaths under former president Rodrigo Duterte.

The ICC appeals chamber on Tuesday, July 18, dismissed the appeal lodged by the Philippine government under President Ferdinand Marcos Jr., effectively allowing ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan to move forward with his probe.

The In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) said the decision proves that “justice cannot wait,” and that the court was able to consider the ongoing suffering of grieving families.

“We commend the survivors and victims’ families whose collective courage pushes the wheels of international justice to turn,” the group said in a statement. “In the end, their struggle benefits all of us who pray such a war, the impact of which will be felt for generations, is never imposed on us again.”

The violent drug war, according to government data, left at least 6,252 people dead at the hands of the police during anti-illegal drug operations as of May 31, 2022. This death toll excludes victims of vigilante-style killings, which, according to human rights groups, pulls the number up to around 30,000.

Only a few have been convicted in drug war-related killings, including the policemen involved in the deaths of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos, Carl Angelo Arnaiz, and Reynaldo “Kulot” de Guzman.

Must Read

EXPLAINER: ICC ruling a win for victims, also opens options for PH gov’t

EXPLAINER: ICC ruling a win for victims, also opens options for PH gov’t

Karapatan, meanwhile, said that there is a real need for the ICC investigation to proceed “without a hitch so that the victims of Duterte’s bloody anti-drug war can finally tread the road towards justice and accountability.”

Lauding the courage of the families and the work of human rights lawyers, the group said the ICC ruling must inspire to continue fighting for accountability under the continuing climate of impunity in the Philippines.

“There is urgent need for international mechanisms such as the ICC to come in because all domestic investigation mechanisms presented by the Duterte and the current Marcos regimes in response to calls for justice and accountability are ineffective and only meant to window-dress the current dire human rights situation,” it said.

The ICC appeals chamber essentially now allows Khan to continue his investigation.

Rise Up for Life and for Rights, a group of families and advocates, said it is ready to cooperate with the investigation as it moves forward. The ICC decision, it said, “built confidence” with victims who hope that it “moves [them] closer to justice.”

“[Families] look forward to the ICC indicting the ‘most responsible’: the masterminds and administrators of a cruel and criminal government policy that targeted killing thousands of poor people,” the group said.

The Philippine Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA) said the decision sends a strong message to governments that they cannot violate international law with impunity.

“The ICC’s decision is a reminder that the international community will not tolerate the systematic killing of civilians especially by government forces,” PAHRA said. “It is also a reminder that the ICC is a powerful tool for holding perpetrators of crimes against humanity accountable.”

Must Read

More killings, no justice: Navigating continued impunity from Duterte to Marcos

More killings, no justice: Navigating continued impunity from Duterte to Marcos
Marcos should abandon war on drugs

The decision is the latest development in relation to the ICC and Duterte’s war on drugs, which began when then-prosecutor Fatou Bensouda in 2016 said her office was monitoring what was happening in the Philippines.

Now that Duterte has left office, it is the Marcos government that will decide what to do next, following the ICC decision.

It should be noted that Marcos has explicitly tried to distance himself from the violence that his predecessor had been known for. The President stated he would be taking on a different approach since enforcement “only gets you so far” and that a “focus on enforcement” resulted in “abuses by certain elements in the government” during the Duterte years.

Human rights groups, however, said Marcos is all talk, given that the situation on the ground continues to mirror the past six years, although to a lesser degree.

Marcos closed his first year in office with at least 342 drug-related killings recorded from July 1, 2022 to June 30, 2023, according to the monitoring of the Dahas project of the University of the Philippines’ Third World Studies Center. Out of this total, 115 were killed during anti-illegal drug operations conducted by the government, including the Philippine National Police (PNP).  

“The Marcos administration should back up its stated commitment to human rights and the fight against impunity by following through on its international legal obligation to cooperate with the court’s investigation,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Bryony Lau said.

“Let our people gain from this historic experience of exacting accountability for crimes of global concern, so that we can send this message to all future tyrants: justice will be served, and human rights will be protected,” iDEFEND said.

Purple Action for Indigenous Women’s Rights (LILAK) urged vigilance as the Marcos government “will not make it easy for investigations to proceed.”

“They are afraid for people to be proven correct – that Duterte’s war on drugs is a case of crime against humanity – a program that is still being pursued by the current administration,” the group said.

The Philippine Coalition for the ICC urged the Philippine government to step up its investigations while providing much needed cooperation with the international court.

“This should serve as a wake-up call for the government under Marcos to re-assess their current position of non-cooperation with the ICC,” it said. “The ICC is a friend, it does not bring harm to the people and the country [and it] complements the Philippines judicial system in efforts for justice.”


Add a comment

Sort by

There are no comments yet. Add your comment to start the conversation.

Summarize this article with AI

How does this make you feel?

Download the Rappler App!
Natsu Ando


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.