ICC ruling opens way to investigation on killings in Philippines
ICC ruling opens way to investigation on killings in Philippines
ICC ruling opens way to investigation on killings in Philippines
by DZRH News19 July 2023
An exterior view of the International Criminal Court in the Hague, Netherlands, March 31, 2021. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw/File Photo

AMSTERDAM/MANILA, July 18 (Reuters) - Appeals judges at the International Criminal Court (ICC) have cleared the way for an investigation into thousands of killings during the Philippines' "war on drugs", a move families of victims and right groups hailed as another step towards justice.

In a ruling on July 18, the ICC appeals judges rejected an attempt by the Philippines to block an investigation into the bloody anti-narcotics campaign of former President Rodrigo Duterte. His representative said he would ignore the decision.

Duterte "has always maintained that as an independent and sovereign state, only Philippine courts can try any crime committed in Philippine territory", Duterte's former spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.

The former president "will face all his accusers anytime but before Philippine courts and before Filipino judges only", Roque said.

In September 2021, the ICC approved a formal investigation into possible crimes against humanity allegedly committed under Duterte's leadership, but it suspended its probe in November 2021 at the request of Manila, which said it was carrying out its own investigations.

But in January this year, the court said it was "not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations" and prosecutors resumed their inquiry. Manila appealed that decision in an attempt to block further investigation.

This was "rejected by the appeals chamber by majority", presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said in a summary of the decision on Tuesday, upholding the lower court's ruling supporting prosecutors' investigation.

A majority of judges rejected all four points of Manila's appeal, including that the ICC has no jurisdiction in the Philippines and that authorities there were conducting their own investigation.

"The ICC appeals judges' ruling marks the next step toward justice for victims of 'drug war' killings and their families," Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), said in a statement.

The decision left some of the families of drug war victims in tears after they watched the court proceeding online. A lawyer representing them, Kristina Conti, said "we are happy but at the same time terrified" because of the challenge that lies ahead.

The Philippines, under Duterte, withdrew from the ICC in March 2019. But appeals judges ruled prosecutors still had jurisdiction over the alleged crimes because they occurred when the Philippines was still an ICC member.

The Philippines remains committed to investigating and prosecuting "allegations connected to the anti-illegal drug campaign", and it "will not be deterred" by the judges' ruling, the Solicitor General's office said in a statement.

Police say more than 6,200 suspects were killed during the brutal crackdown that followed Duterte's election in 2016, all in self-defence. They reject accusations by human rights groups of systematic executions and cover-ups.

HRW's Lau said the administration of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr should back up its commitment to human rights by cooperating with the ICC's investigation.

(This story has been refiled to add the word 'by' in paragraph 12)

(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch and Benoit Van Overstraeten in Amsterdam and Neil Jerome Morales and Eloisa Lopez in Manila; Editing by Charlotte Van Campenhout, Emma Rumney and Alex Richardson)

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