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An International Probe into the Philippines’ ‘Drug War’ Fatalities to Proceed

by Lucas Garcia
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On Tuesday, the International Criminal Court’s appeals judges decided to renew the investigation into the fatal “drug war” in the Philippines, overruling Manila’s protests against the global court’s involvement.

The ICC’s investigation was temporarily halted in late 2021 when the Philippines asserted that it was already examining the same accusations. They maintained that the ICC — a court that typically intervenes as a last resort — consequently lacked jurisdiction.

Following a January ruling by judges supporting the ICC’s chief prosecutor, Karim Khan, the Philippines lodged an appeal. Khan had argued that leaving the investigation to Manila was “unwarranted,” with judges concurring that local proceedings didn’t constitute “tangible, concrete, and progressive investigative steps” that would adequately reflect the court’s investigation.

Presiding Judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut stated during Tuesday’s hearing that a majority of the five-judge appeals panel agreed and dismissed the Philippines’ appeal.

Government reports state that the anti-drug crackdown has resulted in the deaths of over 6,000 suspects, most of whom were impoverished. However, human rights groups believe the death toll is significantly higher and should include countless unresolved murders committed by motorcycle-riding gunmen, allegedly deployed by the police.

Former Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte justified the crackdown as a lawful measure against drug lords and dealers who had been wreaking havoc on the current generation, particularly the youth.

In 2019, Duterte severed the Philippines’ ties with the Hague-based court, a move that rights activists argue was an attempt to avoid accountability and block an international probe into the killings associated with his anti-drug campaign. Nevertheless, the ICC retains jurisdiction over alleged crimes perpetrated while the country was still a member state.

Last year, the incumbent Philippine President, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., confirmed that Manila has no intention to rejoin the ICC, a stance that echoes his predecessor’s position but disappoints human rights activists.

Bryony Lau, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, stated, “The ICC appeals chamber’s decision dismisses Philippine government assertions that the ICC shouldn’t investigate in the country.” She added, “President Marcos should affirm his professed commitment to human rights by collaborating with the ICC prosecutor’s inquiry.”

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