MANILA, Philippines — The Philippine government must participate in any probe that will look into alleged human rights violations committed in relation to the war against illegal drugs, the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) said.
The CHR issued the statement on Tuesday, in light of the recent decision of International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensoudato ask for judicial authorization that would allow an investigation on the crime against humanity complaint filed against President Rodrigo Duterte.
Bensouda released copies of the 57-page formal request on Monday, wherein she insisted that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder was committed during Duterte’s war against illegal drugs.
“In this regard, CHR, as the country’s independent national human rights institution, continues to advise the present Philippine government to participate in this process of seeking truth and justice for the human rights violations committed in the country,” lawyer and CHR spokesperson Jacqueline de Guia said.
“There is a need for the present administration to demonstrate genuine openness, transparency, and cooperation in its engagement with human rights investigation and accountability mechanisms, including that of the UN system, in improving the human rights situation in the country,” she added.
The CHR said the decision of the Philippine National Police — one of the main implementers of the drug war — to open records for the scrutiny of investigators is still a step in the right direction. As such, the commission said that they are looking forward to more similar engagements with other government agencies.
“The Commission continues to view the decision of the Philippine National Police to open the cases of killings allegedly linked to the government’s drug campaign for the Department of Justice’s investigation as a step towards the right direction,” De Guia explained.
“At the same time, CHR remains to look forward to more meaningful engagements in demonstrating the rule of law in the country, including being able to have access to cases of said killings in the country for our own independent probe,” she added.
After Bensouda made the announcement and released copies of the formal request, several human rights advocates and organizations lauded the move saying that it would lead to Duterte being held accountable for deaths that happened during anti-drugs operations.
However, the administration has consistently maintained that there are no irregularities such as extra-judicial killings (EJKs) in the conduct of the drug war, with Duterte once saying that deaths outside of legitimate operations are caused by feuding drug syndicates.
READ: ‘Discreet’ probe shows warring drug gangs behind EJKs – President
Earlier, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque insisted that the government will not cooperate with any possible probe initiated by the ICC as it has already withdrawn from the Rome Statute, the treaty which created the ICC.
READ: Palace: Duterte will never cooperate with ICC probe
The CHR meanwhile reiterates Bensouda’s position — that the ICC has jurisdiction over the Philippines as the complaint was filed before the actual withdrawal, while the supposed crimes also occurred while the country was still party to the Rome Statute.
In her statement, Bensouda said there is a similar case to the Philippines, this time involving the Republic of Burundi, where investigations continued despite the latter’s withdrawal from the Rome Statute.
READ: ICC prosecutor asks for judicial authority to probe case filed vs Duterte
“To recall, in 2020, the Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, led by Fatou Bensouda, reported that there is ‘reasonable basis to believe’ that crimes against humanity—particularly murder, torture, and infliction of serious physical injury and mental harm as other inhumane acts—were committed in the Philippines linked to the government’s campaign against illegal drugs,” De Guia said.
“Despite the Philippines’ withdrawal to the Roman Statute effective 17 March 2019, the ICC retains jurisdiction over the Philippine territory during the period it was a State Party from 01 November 2011 up to 16 March 2019,” she added.
The CHR has also made observations and criticisms of the government’s drug war: last March 25, the commission said that in their investigation of more than 3,300 supposed EJKs, they found out that police had the intent to kill during anti-drug operations.
READ: Police in drug war operations had intent to kill – CHR report
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