By Marivir R. Montebon
New York City – No, he is not off the hook. An international lawyer said that President Rodrigo Duterte may still be investigated for what appears to be state-sanctioned murders in his ‘war against drugs’ despite the government’s withdrawal from the International Criminal Court (ICC).
Ruben Carranza, a lawyer of the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), warned against ‘pure impunity’ and said in a press forum that Duterte is accountable for thousands of deaths as a result of his anti-drug campaign. The Human Rights Watch noted that about 12,000 people were killed in Duterte’s drug war while Philippine police admitted that about 4000 people were killed in the course of its anti-drug operations.
In a forum organized by the Fil-Am Press Club of New York, Carranza said that Duterte may be the first Asian president to face possible charges of crimes against humanity before the ICC. He said that the president and officials who were supposed to carry the protection of human rights may be liable.
“It is a war on poor people. The poor people were not even fighting back. They were just killed,” Carranza told local press and lawyers here on Friday, April 13.
Carranza discussed the implications of the Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC, in the light of the preliminary examination readied by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. Despite a high popularity and a seemingly promising economy, the massive killings in the name of drugs haunt the two-year administration.
Carranza emphasized government accountability for these killings, and warned against impunity that makes these murders go unchecked and without justice. The Republic of Burundi, which like the Philippines, quit from the ICC, is now being probed for alleged political persecutions of 400 people.
In February 2018, Bensouda announced that the ICC will open preliminary examinations into alleged crimes by police and military in Venezuela and the Philippines. An examination is a preliminary step to determine whether there is reasonable basis to proceed to an investigation. Testimonials and letters to the The Hague will prompt the prosecutor to conduct initial probes and eventually, an investigation for charges of crimes against humanity.
The Philippines’ withdrawal from the ICC takes effect after one year, or in March 2019. Any signatory to the Rome Statute that created the ICC could withdraw without giving any reason and only have to write to the UN Secretary General, Carranza explained.
“It is embarrassing to withdraw from the ICC,” Carranza remarked. “And he offered a lot of reasons which were self-contradictory and hypocritical, and threatened to arrest Prosecutor Bensouda should she come to the Philippines for a preliminary examination. It is a crime to threaten the ICC prosecutor,” he said.
Carranza’s work at the ICTJ involves accountability and reparation justice in victim communities in Nepal, Timor-Leste, Palestine, Liberia, Ghana, South Africa, Kenya, Indonesia, Iraq, and the Philippines. He said that the hope for justice is in the (ICC) prosecutor who makes popular dictators accountable, and for people and local lawyers to step up.
The Philippines was a signatory to the Rome Statute in 2002, which the Philippine Senate had ratified in 2011. Early this year, Duterte had admitted that his war against drugs may take longer than his self-imposed six-month deadline because his “generals and policemen were involved.”