Rights groups welcome ICC prosecutor’s decision

By : Bobby Lagsa Mindanao Today/06:28:05pm 07/17/2021


(Note: This news article was published in the print edition of Mindanao Today on June 21, 2021)

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY – Rights activists here and in Manila welcomed the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s decision to recommend the opening of the investigation against President Rodrigo Duterte for they consider as “crimes against humanity.”

Agnes Callamard, former United Nations rapporteur for Extrajudicial Killings (EJKs), conducted an investigation on President Duterte’s bloody drug war dubbed “Tokhang,” where thousands of Filipinos became victims of EJKs allegedly carried out by state security forces.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, Duterte promised to kill drug addicts and feed them to the fish in Manila bay.

The threat became real after he was sworn in as President of the Philippines.

In a statement, Bensouda announced that she has concluded her preliminary examination in the Philippines and is seeking authorization from the Court’s judges for a full investigation into crimes against humanity, torture, and other inhumane acts committed in connection with the country’s “war on drugs” between November 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019.

Human rights lawyer Beverly Musni said that Operation Tokhang is a bloody long-drawn war authored by vicious sponsors, Duterte and then National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa, who’s now a senator, among the principals with the full backing of the country’s law enforcement machinery,

“The investigation would be far from being a walk in the park, support groups, journalists, lawyers, church people and everyone wanting justice for Tokhang victims and putting an end to it should work together in gathering, preserving, and protecting witnesses, documents, evidence, reports, and everything needed to be made available to the ICC team,” Musni said.

She said that the task of investigating Duterte and company is going to be one hell of a task.

“Dangerous as people involved will be placed in the line of fire of people used and habitually inclined to firing,” Musni said.

Musni said that the investigation of Duterte for crime against humanity is history being written and nobody should write it right but the seekers of justice themselves.

Fr. Christopher Ablon of the Iglesia Filipina Independiente (IFI), who is now on self-exile after being red-tagged a number of times, praised the move by Bensouda and calls it a long overdue decision.

“Finally, it’s here. I am looking forward to the probe for more concrete results. International opinions and perspective especially on universal issues like human rights are essential in building a constituency for better governance,” Ablon said.

He said that the investigation and possible trial of Duterte at the ICC is a step towards justice for the victims of EJKs.

IFI Bishop Antonio Ablon, who is also one of the most red-tagged church leaders and now based in Germany, said that he is happy that the battle of victims of EJKs is now at the ICC.

“The challenge now is the investigation itself. Duterte and his elks must be gone, this is the challenge in the next election,” the bishop said.

Human rights lawyer Ernesto Neri said that the move to investigate Duterte is a step towards accountability and the truth.

“They will investigate Duterte, but it is not yet an assurance that there will be a trial. It is like in a criminal case, this is where the preliminary investigation starts,” Neri said.

Christina Palabay, secretary general of the human rights group Karapatan, said the decision to put Duterte under investigation is a long-awaited step towards justice and accountability.

“It is yet another damning indictment of the Duterte government’s murderous policies that have killed – and continue to kill – thousands of Filipinos with impunity,” Palabay said.

Karapatan, together with the families of the victims of the drug war and other human rights advocates, welcomed this significant and much-needed development amid the backdrop of the rapidly deteriorating human rights crisis in the Philippines.

Despite the various efforts of government agencies to dissuade the growing calls for an international investigation into the Philippines, Bensouda’s conclusions in her request only makes clear that these killings “appear to have been committed pursuant to an official State policy of the Philippine government,” Palabay said.

She added that the Philippine authorities’ failure to take meaningful steps to investigate or prosecute perpetrators of the killings in the drug war highlight the sheer limitation and failure of domestic and independent mechanisms of accountability.

“We now strongly urge the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to grant Bensouda’s request as we call on incoming ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan to pursue the investigation into the human rights crisis in the Philippines and to hold President Duterte and all officials involved in the drug war accountable for their crimes against the Filipino people,” Palabay said.

In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) welcomed Bensouda's request before the Pre-Trial Chamber, to proceed to investigate the situation in the Philippines in relation to serious international crimes perpetrated during the government's war on drugs.

“It is another step closer to exacting accountability from this government which has caused much suffering to the victims' families and communities, who continue to be reluctant to engage domestic mechanisms for fear of reprisal from authorities,” said iDEFEND spokesperson Judy Pasimio.

“Duterte's brutal war on drugs normalized violence in our society and terrorized the population into silence. He must be held liable along with the police and military leadership that implemented the bloody campaign,” Pasimio said.

Child Rights Network (CRN) noted that in a 2020 report published by the Children's Legal Rights and Development Center (CLRDC), at least 122 children have been killed in the Philippines’ anti-illegal drugs campaign.

“With thousands killed under Oplan Tokhang and related operations, this bloody campaign has resulted into a generation of orphans and traumatized children, a generation robbed of loving parents and kin, a generation who will forever remember the brutal manner of death their parents or guardians went through,” the CRN said.

“We share Bensouda’s hopes that the incoming ICC chief prosecutor, Mr. Karim Khan, will prioritize the resolution of this case,” CRN added.

“We note that the aim of the upcoming probe is not only to indict President Rodrigo Duterte for his accountability, but also to help uncover the culpability of other officials and law enforcement authorities who played pivotal roles in enabling the spate of killings, including those of children,” CRN said.

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