The Philippine government should provide information on its “genuine” drug war investigations to support its request for a suspension of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) probe, the court’s chief prosecutor said Tuesday.
ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said his office would ask the country to provide details on the proceedings it had cited when it sought deferral of the tribunal’s investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by law enforcers during President Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drug campaign.
“The Office of the Prosecutor will request that such information be provided promptly, as envisaged by Article 18 of the Rome Statute and as necessary to ensure that there is no impunity for Rome Statute crimes,” Khan’s office said through a statement.
Such information should consist of “tangible evidence, of probative value and a sufficient degree of specificity,” according to the ICC.
It should also demonstrate “concrete and progressive investigative steps that have been or are currently being undertaken to ascertain the responsibility of persons for alleged conduct falling within the scope of the authorized ICC investigation,” Khan’s office said, noting that the domestic proceedings “must be conducted genuinely.”
“Accordingly, and pursuant to rule 53 of the ICC Rules of Procedure and Evidence, the Prosecutor will in the coming days request the Philippines to provide substantiating information regarding the investigations and proceedings referenced in its deferral request,” his office added.
Reacting to Khan’s statement, Cabinet Secretary Karlo Nograles said the chief prosecutor’s request for information was an “acknowledgment” that alleged victims can seek redress in Philippine legal institutions.
The Palace official also reiterated the Philippine government’s stance that the ICC has no jurisdiction over Duterte’s drug war.
“This validates our earlier position that the ICC is the court of last resort, one that can be utilized when a state party is unwilling to investigate and prosecute those who violate its laws; this is simply not the case in the Philippines,” Nograles said.
“Our criminal justice system continues to be capable and functional,” he said, which he described as “evidence that a culture of impunity does not exist” in the Philippines.
The ICC announced on 18 November the temporary suspension of its probe on the Philippines’ anti-narcotics campaign following the government’s deferral request, which was articulated by Philippine Ambassador to the Netherlands Eduardo Malaya through a letter dated 10 November that was sent to Khan’s office.
In the letter, Malaya noted that local authorities have “undertaken, and continue to undertake, thorough investigations of all reported deaths during anti-narcotic operations in the country in accordance with the relevant procedures,” thus the government finds the ICC intervention unnecessary.
He particularly cited the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) review of 52 drug-related deaths, where administrative liability was found on the part of law enforcers. The said cases have been referred by the agency to the National Bureau of Investigation.
Rights groups have belittled the DoJ review and claimed it had only “scratched the surface” of the Duterte administration’s anti-narcotics drive, noting that the 52 cases probed were merely just one percent of the 6,191 drug deaths reported as of August 2021.
Also among the local probes cited by the government in its deferral request include its review of 300 other cases from the last decade that possibly involve human rights violations.
Khan reiterated on Tuesday that the state’s request would not stop his office from analyzing information in its hands, and that he would still receive information from third parties as a prosecutor, even if the investigative activities are temporarily suspended.
He also stressed that his office would continue to be “particularly attentive to the security, safety, and wellbeing of victims and witnesses” on the ICC’s drug war investigation.
Lawyers’ groups have previously appealed to the ICC to proceed with its drug war investigation despite the government’s deferral request, saying the state’s processes have been “utterly ineffective in stopping wave after wave” of drug-related killings and the imprisonment of poor Filipinos over supposed questionable charges.