Manila, Dec 16 (efe-epa).- The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague has found a “reasonable basis” to believe crimes against humanity have been committed in the Philippines during the war on drugs (WoD) launched by President Rodrigo Duterte.
“The Office (of the Prosecutor) is satisfied that information available provides a reasonable basis to believe that the crimes against humanity of murder (article 7(1)(a)), torture (article 7(1)(f)) and the infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane Acts (article 7(1)(k)) were committed on the territory of the Philippines 48 between at least 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019, in connection to the WoD campaign launched throughout the country,” ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a report published on Tuesday, Manila time.
However, it has not yet been decided whether the preliminary examination will move to a formal investigation due to Covid-19 pandemic restraints.
“The Office anticipates reaching a decision on whether to seek authorisation to open an investigation into the situation in the Philippines in the first half of 2021,” said Bensouda.
The ICC will open an investigation if it determines that the Philippine justice system has been unable or unwilling to prosecute those responsible for the deaths in the drug campaign, in which some 8,000 suspects have been killed in police raids, according to the latest official figures.
However, human rights groups raise the figure to some 30,000 victims killed by authorities or by hitmen taking advantage of the climate of impunity of the campaign, since the president himself has encouraged the shooting of anyone suspected of consuming or dealing drugs.
“Open source information indicates that a limited number of investigations and prosecutions have been initiated (and, in some cases, completed) at the national level in respect of direct perpetrators of certain criminal conduct that allegedly took place in the context of, or connection to, the WoD campaign,” said the prosecutor.
To date, there has only been one conviction in the framework of the campaign, for the murder in August 2017 of 17-year-old Kian de los Santos, in which three police officers were found guilty and sentenced to jail in November 2018.
Although there is still no formal investigation announcement, the president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), Edre Olalia, compared the ICC reported to “rays of hope (that) have peeked out of the pitch dark clouds of impunity.”
Cristina Palabay, coordinator of Karapatan, a national network of human rights groups, said: “The day of reckoning is coming nearer for Duterte’s reign of terror. As we await the decision of the Office of the Prosecutor, we press our calls for justice for the Duterte administration’s brutal crimes against the Filipino people.”
Both Karapatan and the NUPL are among the organizations that have filed lawsuits with the ICC pointing to Duterte as an instigator of the murders and therefore responsible for crimes against humanity.
As a result of the ICC opening a preliminary examination on the war on drugs, Duterte announced the Philippines’ departure from the body on Mar. 16, 2018, a decision that became effective a year later, although the international court still has jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed up to Mar. 16, 2019. EFE-EPA