Callamard calls on International Criminal Court to prioritize probe into killings in PH

United Nations (UN) special rapporteur Agnes Callamard on Monday, September 14, urged the International Criminal Court (ICC) to complete its probe into the Philippine situation as killings continue even in the middle of a health crisis. 

"I call on the ICC to prioritize the completion of its preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines," the UN rapporteur on extrajudicial killings said in a video statement for the Global Day of Action.

"For the last two months, more people have lost their lives, more human rights defenders, more victims among the poorest and most impoverished  communities," Callamard added.

In December 2019, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office aims to reach a decision in 2020 on whether or not to open a formal investigation into the killings under Duterte.

Bensouda opened a preliminary examination into the drug war in February 2018. This is the first step in the ICC process where ICC jurisdiction over the case needs to be established.

'Painful reminder'

The recent call was sparked by the latest killings in the Philippines, including human rights activists and defenders, against the backdrop of a new anti-terror law. (READ: Duterte ushers in new level of danger for activists, human rights defenders)

"Sadly but not surprisingly... more killings have taken place," Callamard said. "They are the painful and saddest reminder that every day, there are more killings."

The raging coronavirus pandemic also did not stop Duterte’s violent anti-drug operations as the number of deaths has continued to grow over the past 5 months.

Figures obtained by Rappler showed that the Philippine National Police already counted 7,884 deaths from July 1, 2016 to August 31, 2020. (READ: Unreal numbers: Around 2,000 drug war deaths missing in Duterte gov't tally

The number, however, excludes the thousands killed by still unidentified suspects. Human rights groups estimate that the total number of killed in the drug war has reached more than 27,000 already. (READ: The Impunity Series)

Time to act

Callamard called on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to establish an independent investigation into the worsening situation in the Philippines.

"I urge HRC to hear the voice of civil society, the voice of families of victims, to hear all of those who lost loved ones in this senseless attacks against the most underprivileged and impoverished members of Philippine society," Callamard added.

The UNHRC is convening for its 45th session from September 14 to October 6. It is expected to include the Philippine situation in its agenda. 

In July, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said Duterte's drug war was being carried out "without due regard for the rule of law, due process, and human rights.”

The Duterte government already created an inter-agency panel that is expected to reinvestigate the deaths in police operations, a move Human Rights Watch tagged as mere "propaganda to appease [UNHRC], to prevent it from taking action.” –

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.