MANILA, Philippines — A United Nations human rights expert urged the government to see the preliminary examination the International Criminal Court into alleged extrajudicial killings in the “war on drugs” as an “opportunity to turn a definite page” in the bloody campaign and “undertake impartial and independent investigations into all allegations and provide remedies and reparations to the victims.”
Special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard also said she remained “committed to support the government in such efforts, including through an official country visit, alone or with other special rapporteurs, as per our requests to this effect.”
For its part, Human Rights Watch said “the ICC’s announcement should spur efforts by United Nations member countries to push back against (President Rodrigo Duterte) Duterte’s efforts to legitimize his bloody ‘drug war’,” adding that “the government’s unrelenting hostility to international scrutiny and accountability makes a U.N.-led international investigation crucial.”
Her statement came a day after Malacañang acknowledged that the Philippine mission to The Hague had been informed of the planned move by ICC prosecutor Fatous Bensouda.
In a statement, Bensouda said she is actually opening two preliminary examinations, into the Philippines and Venezuela.
That on the Philippines “will analyze crimes allegedly committed in this State Party since at least 1 July 2016, in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ campaign launched by the Government of the Philippines. Specifically, it has been alleged that since 1 July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing. While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”
Callamard and HRW have long irked President Rodrigo Duterte and been the subject of his epithet-laden tirades for their statements on the thousands of killings that have marked the government’s anti-drug campaign since he came to office and, in the case of the international watchdog group, the alleged “Davao Death Squad” killings when he was mayor of the Mindanao city.
Duterte has also stymied Callamard’s offers to visit the country to investigate the bloodshed by imposing conditions like requiring her to be questioned and debated by him before agreeing to let her in.
Welcoming the ICC’s announcement, Callamard paid tribute “to the many actors in the Philippines whose courageous actions over the last 19 months have shed a much needed light on the tragedy, challenged the government, including through legal actions, and brought protection and comfort to families.”
“As I have warned repeatedly, a major human rights crisis has been unfolding in the Philippines, characterized, among other things, by vast number of allegations of extrajudicial executions and a failure on the part of the State to undertake prompt, independent, impartial investigations, and provide justice to the many victims, in violation with its international obligations,” she said.
HRW called the ICC’s action “a rebuke of the Philippine government’s campaign of denial and distraction seemingly designed to deflect growing evidence of extrajudicial executions that Duterte and senior government officials have incited and instigated.”
It also cited presidential spokesman Harry Roque’s dismissal of the ICC decision as a “waste of the court’s time and resources” as “just the latest example of government efforts to deny the horrific human toll of the anti-drug campaign, which has resulted in more than an estimated 12,000 deaths, the majority urban slum dwellers.”
Reiterating its call for a U.N.-led probe into the killings, HRW said it would “send the message that U.N. member countries strongly support justice in the Philippines and put further pressure on the Duterte government to stop the killings and to cooperate with efforts to hold those responsible to account.”