MANILA – Human Rights Watch urged the United Nations Human Rights Council on Tuesday to investigate the murders committed in the anti-drug campaign in the Philippines, following the country’s exit from the International Criminal Court.
“As a member of the council, the Philippines is obligated to uphold the ‘highest standards’ of human rights, to ‘fully cooperate’ with the council, and accept increased scrutiny of its rights record to ensure it adheres to its membership responsibilities,” said Param-Preet Singh, Associate Director of the International Justice Program.
The Philippines formally withdrew on Sunday from the Rome Statute, constituting the ICC, implying that The Hague court has jurisdiction to continue its preliminary examination of the murders committed while the country was a member, but will not be able to investigate those that occurred after.
That the ICC will not be able to pursue justice in the Philippines for future crimes highlights the urgency of the UN Human Rights Council dispatching an investigation into “drug war” killings in the Philippines,” Singh said.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the ICC exit last year, a few weeks after ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda initiated a preliminary investigation of the extrajudicial executions committed during the anti-drug campaign following a lawsuit against Duterte for crimes against humanity.
HRW warned about the seriousness of the situation because the number of fatalities in the campaign, which started on July 1, 2016, is 27,000, according to figures compiled by the UN.
Official Filipino data point to just over 5,100 deaths, most of which occurred while resisting arrest, according to police reports.
“A UN-led investigation could shine the spotlight on Duterte’s efforts to block accountability, and raise the pressure on him and his government to change course,” Singh added.
Although the Philippines became a signatory to the Rome Statute in 2000 and the Congress ratified it in 2011, Duterte argued that the ICC does not have jurisdiction in his country and cannot open an investigation against him because that last step is not in the Official Gazette thus making it invalid.
Duterte also threatened prosecutor Bensouda to stop her from traveling to the Philippines and on Monday his spokesperson, Salvador Panelo, warned that Manila would deny visas to ICC personnel and deport them immediately upon entering.
Bensouda said on Monday through the ICC’s Twitter account that “My Office’s independent and impartial preliminary examination into the situation in Philippines continues” as “the Court retains jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time in which the State was party to the Statute and may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective.”