International Criminal Court

Callamard: ICC probe request crucial to ending murders incited by Duterte

Jodesz Gavilan

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SEEKING JUSTICE. Families post photos of their loved ones killed under Duterte's war on drugs.

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The latest move 'is a moment of hope' for the grieving families of victims of Duterte's war on drugs, says the former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings

Former United Nations special rapporteur Agnes Callamard on Monday, June 14, said the request for authorization to investigate, lodged by outgoing International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, is a “crucial step” in attaining justice for victims in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on drugs.

Callamard, now the secretary general of Amnesty International, emphasized that this move is important given the “absolute impunity” in the Philippines.

“This announcement is a moment of hope for thousands of families in the Philippines who are grieving those lost to the government’s so-called ‘war on drugs,'” she said in a statement.

“This is a much-awaited step in putting murderous incitement by President Duterte and his administration to an end,” Callamard added.

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ICC prosecutor seeks probe into Duterte’s drug war, Davao killings

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Bensouda on Monday announced that her office had applied with the pre-trial chamber (PTC) for an authorization to proceed with the investigation into the crimes against humanity allegedly committed in Duterte’s violent war on drugs.

In a document, Bensouda said the killings were committed “pursuant to an official State policy of the Philippine government,” and that they “appear to be a defining characteristic of the national war on drugs campaign.” 

Aside from the drug-related killings since 2016, when Duterte became president, the application also seeks to cover killings allegedly perpetrated by the Davao Death Squad (DDS) from 2011 to 2016, when Duterte was mayor.

Callamard called on stakeholders – including the Philippine government and human rights groups – to cooperate and ensure that “evidence is preserved,” and the ICC “must ensure the protection of those who may assist the investigation.”

Callamard, a former UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings, has consistently condemned the violence in the Philippines. She has also been the subject of insults by President Duterte.

‘Firmly in the crosshairs of justice’

The announcement of the ICC is the latest in efforts to hold Duterte and his government accountable for the violence under his flagship project.

Duterte’s war on drugs has led to at least 6,117 killed in police operations, according to government count, as of April 30, 2021. Human rights groups, however, estimate the number to be between 27,000 and 30,000 to include victims of vigilante-style killings.

A scathing report by UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet in June 2020 pointed out that the war on drugs was being carried out without due process and that the local system wasn’t enough to exact accountability over the killings.

While the announcement of the ICC prosecutor places Duterte and those involved in the murderous campaign “firmly in the crosshairs of justice,” Callamard said this intervention must be reinforced and supported by other international mechanisms, including the UN Human Rights Council (UN HRC).

The UNHRC in September 2020 adopted a resolution which pushed for “technical assistance” to the Philippines to address widespread abuses, much to the dismay of many human rights groups.

“The UN HRC must launch its long overdue investigation into the Philippines,” she said. “The perpetrators and architects of these crimes must be held to account.” –

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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.