ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda recently released this official statement regarding the interest of the International Criminal Court in alleged crimes against humanity taking place in the Philippines and Venezuela in 2016 and 2017.
In July of 2016, under the pretext of a “war on drugs”, the government of the Philippines engaged in thousands of extrajudicial killings and executions of individuals suspected of involvement in illegal drug use and trade. According to government reports, some of these deaths occurred under circumstances broadly described as “gang violence”, but many more are alleged to be part of government-supported police actions during anti-drug operations. (This statement, and the research efforts undertaken by Bensouda, also include armed action taken against protesters in Venezuela, which we’ll discuss in another blog).
For now, the key takeaway from this statement is as follows: This examination into both sets of events has been opened in order to determine if either government has violated the Rome Statute, an international criminal law that holds national courts responsible for investigating and prosecuting individuals who have been accused of international crimes. Nations are often reluctant to submit their own leaders, former leaders, or citizens to a full investigation or prosecution for international crimes related to extrajudicial killings, genocide, trafficking, or other crimes that transcend national borders. The Rome Statute has been drafted to address this obstacle. So in this case, the pending examination will seek to uphold that statute and establish the appropriate jurisdiction for what may become a full investigation at a later point in the process.
The progress of justice in ICC cases like this can seem agonizingly slow, especially for the families of those killed by police and government actors during these events. While the relevant jurisdiction is established by ICC prosecutors, Rodrigo Duerte remains president of the Philippines. He also remains openly defiant of the proceedings and continues to deny government involvement in the violent deaths of over 4,000 people suspected of drug crimes.
At a recent speech in Cebu City, Duerte made his position clear. “The war on drugs will not stop and will last until the day I step down,” he said. “If I go to prison, I go to prison.
Human rights groups state that the 4,000 figure is an underestimation. As always, we’ll follow the development of this case as it unfolds.