ICC to probe possible human rights violations in the Philippines
ICC to probe possible human rights violations in the Philippines

International Criminal Court (ICC) [official website Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Thursday announced [statement] her decision to open a preliminary examination [ICC backgrounder, PDF] into allegations of human rights violations committed in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte [BBC profile] and his political party since July 1, 2016.

Bensouda also expressed her intention to conduct a preliminary examination of the situation concerning political unrest and demonstrations in Venezuela. Clarifying that neither of these are “investigations” in the strict sense of the term, Bensouda stated:

The preliminary examination of the situation in the Philippines will analyse 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. … Under the Rome Statute [PDF], national jurisdictions have the primary responsibility to investigate and prosecute those responsible for international crimes. I emphasise that a preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute

In this context, Bensouda stated that her office will be engaging with the concerned national authorities to discuss potential investigation and prosecution at the national level. Adding that there are “no statutory timelines on the length of a preliminary examination,” Bensouda stated that she will decide whether to initiate an investigation depending on the facts and circumstances of the situation.

The ICC would have jurisdiction over genocide, and/or any crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in a nation or by its nationals, if such crimes were committed in that nation since becoming a party to the Rome statute. The Philippines became a party to the Rome statute on 1 November 2011.

In October, JURIST Guest columnist Perfecto Caparas discussed [JURIST op-ed] how Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte could face prosecution under international law, despite Duterte’s claims of immunity from prosecution. Both Philippines and Duterte have been under the radar of human rights organizations for the past year or so for alleged crimes against humanity. In November, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy site] released [JURIST report] a report detailing humanitarian crisis incidents that may amount to war crimes in the Philippines. Earlier in March, Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] accused [JURIST report] police in the Philippines of falsifying evidence to justify killings in the country’s war on drugs. According to HRW, the government did not charge a single police officer over any of the killings.