MANILA, Philippines — Although the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has found grounds to prosecute crimes against humanity in President Duterte’s war against illegal drugs, the first step of the process will likely take at least three months.
Param-Preet Singh, a lawyer with the Human Rights Watch (HRW), said the case was submitted to the ICC’s Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) by former prosecutor Fatou Bensouda who determined that members of the Philippine National Police illegally killed several thousand civilians from 2016 to 2019.
Singh said that for the case to move forward, the judges of the PTC would examine if the prosecutor had “presented reasonable grounds to proceed, and that she’s adhered to the [Rome] Statute” that created the ICC.
“Timing varies,” said Singh, who once lawyered for the United Nations Mission in Kosovo, noting that the PTC took only three months to open an investigation of crimes against humanity in Myanmar in 2019. However, there were also cases, like the war crimes in Afghanistan, that took more than two years to resolve.
“For the most part, the threshold is quite low, provided that she has dotted her i’s and crossed her t’s. All things being equal, we hope that the judges will open the investigation,” Singh said.
Singh made the remarks in an online forum with journalists in Manila and HRW officials from New York and Geneva on Wednesday evening.
But the day before, Malacañang said it would not cooperate with the ICC because the Philippines, which was a party to the Rome Statute from Nov. 1, 2011, withdrew from the ICC on March 17, 2019.
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Lawmakers dare Duterte
Leftist lawmakers mocked Malacañang’s position and dared the President to cooperate with the ICC.
“We dare the Duterte administration to open itself to the investigation, if it is not truly guilty of the thousands who died ‘tokhang-style.’ Let’s open all venues to the ICC to probe, and if you are not guilty, the investigation will show this,” said ACT Teachers Rep. France Castro.
“Where’s the bravado of the Duterte administration?” asked Gabriela Women’s Rep. Arlene Brosas.
“The Palace said there should be no reason to be afraid if one did no wrong. Now that the ICC wants to investigate, they are making a lot of excuses and it seems the government is afraid,” she said.
“If he has nothing to be afraid of—and he says this a lot—if he did not do anything wrong, why should he be afraid? The Duterte regime should face these crimes against humanity and all those involved should be made to answer for it,” said Bayan Muna Rep. Ferdinand Gaite.
For Bayan Muna Rep. Carlos Isagani Zarate, Mr. Duterte “may not even want to participate in the investigation but, eventually, the long arms of justice will catch you.” INQ