The recent announcement by the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague that it could wrap up next year its preliminary examination on the case against President Duterte’s administration for the rash of extrajudicial killings (EJKs) in the country was welcomed by the human-rights community as providing a “glimmer of hope” to the complainants and victims of the drug war.
It is also a timely development, as the country and the world observe Human Rights Day today. However, with the administration unfailingly breaking into hives at any mention of the term, Malacañang is not expected to offer even token hosannas on the significance of the day, despite the Philippines being one of the original signatories of the historic Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on Dec. 10, 1948.
The drug war killings have become the biggest scourge against human rights and the rule of law in recent Philippine history, with thousands of people, mostly poor, ending up dead as the police were given a free hand to mount deadly operations against suspected users and small-time drug dealers, and vigilante squads were seemingly allowed to add to the bloodbath with a wave of brazen assassinations, few of which have resulted in the apprehension of the assailants.
(In a couple of cases where the gunmen were captured, they turned out to be policemen on active duty.)
It was only a matter of course that complaints against these killings would reach the international tribunal, with the local justice system proving dismally ineffectual so far in providing proper redress.
Of the thousands of “deaths under investigation” in the police dockets, only one EJK case — that of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos — has been resolved by a local court, with guilty verdicts handed down against three of his police killers.
The ICC, which investigates and prosecutes war crimes, crimes against humanity and crime of aggression, can try and order the arrest of individuals found liable for the gravest crimes of concern to the international community. It was created to seek an end to global impunity and hold perpetrators to account for their crimes.
Last week, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda issued her report on the ICC’s pending preliminary examinations, including two cases for crimes against humanity lodged against President Duterte in February 2018.
Her office, said Bensouda, had “significantly advanced its assessment of whether there is reasonable basis to proceed” with an investigation, and will have a decision out by 2020.
It’s a development keenly awaited by the complainants, the families of slain drug suspects and the human rights community, even with the President’s repeated threats that he would never submit himself to the ICC prosecutor.
Those presidential threats have characteristically included hostile pronouncements against human rights and their advocates, which only drives the perception that the EJKs are state-directed, drawing international scrutiny and condemnation.
In its report in July this year, Amnesty International called on the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to conduct an investigation into the unabated killings in the past three years.
New York-based Human Rights Watch also reported: “The human rights crisis in the Philippines unleashed since President Rodrigo Duterte took office in June 2016 deepened in 2018 as Duterte continued his murderous ‘war on drugs’ in the face of mounting international criticism.”
The outcry culminated in the approval by the UNHRC last July of a resolution directing UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet to prepare a “comprehensive report on the human rights situation in the Philippines” by middle of next year.
Domestically, another development expected to shed light on the drug war is the report that Vice President Leni Robredo has promised to release after the conclusion of the Southeast Asian Games.
What revelations and insights was Robredo able to glean from her rudely interrupted stint in the Inter-Agency Committee on Anti-Illegal Drugs — and what data were so explosive, so imperative for the administration to keep secret, that it had to fire Robredo after only two weeks on the job rather than give her access to drug information that Malacañang described as “state secrets,”the disclosure of which would supposedly “jeopardize the security of the state”?
Nothing has jeopardized the security of the rule of law in the country, as well as the Philippines’ international standing, more than the methodical assault on human rights brought about by the drug war. But the world is watching and keeping tabs, and the coming day of accountability may not be far off.
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