Blood flows from the body of a man killed in a shootout with police in Manila. (Reuters file)
MANILA, Philippines — An international human rights watchdog dismissed as a “false claim” presidential spokesman Harry Roque’s assertion that the International Criminal Court should not investigate the deaths in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war on because the government is willing and able to prosecute those responsible.
Param-Preet Singh, associate director of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice Program, also reiterated the group’s call for an international investigation of the drug war deaths, led by the United Nations, to “help expose the extent of the abuses and possible targets of a criminal investigation, including possible crimes against humanity.”
Roque is attending the ICC’s annual diplomatic conference at the United Nations in New York where he was scheduled to speak and expected to underscore the principle of “complementarity,” which mandates that the international court can only exercise jurisdiction if the country’s courts are unwilling or unable to do so.
In April, Jude Sabio, lawyer of former policeman Edgar Matobato, who claims to have been a member of the “Davao Death Squad,” asked the ICC to probe Duterte for mass murder for the hundreds of deaths supposedly committed by the hit squad he allegedly created while mayor of Davao City as well as for the thousands of killings in the course of the war on drugs.
In October last year, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed concern about the killings and said her office was studying whether a preliminary examination could be opened.
Duterte, who has invariably dismissed criticism of his war on drugs, has threatened to pull out of both the ICC and the United Nations.
Singh acknowledged that “Roque is correct that under the ICC’s statute, the court may only step in only when national authorities are unable or unwilling to do so.”
However, she said “his assertion that the Philippine government has been willing and able to investigate those deaths has simply not been true.”
“The government has made no genuine efforts to seek accountability for drug war abuses,” the HRW official said. “There have been no successful prosecutions or convictions of police implicated in summary killings despite compelling evidence of such abuses.”
Since Duterte became president, some tallies of the deaths attributed to his war on drugs estimate more than 13,000 killed and counting, either in police operations or vigilante-style execution.
Not only has “Duterte has publicly vowed to pardon, reinstate, and promote officers convicted of extrajudicial killings,” Singh noted, he and his supporters “have systematically vilified, harassed, and sought to intimidate institutions and individuals — including UN officials — who have sought accountability for the killings.”
Recently, Duterte threatened to “slap” UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions Agnes Callamard while Roque warned her not to visit the Philippines uninvited.
Singh called the government’s claims of preparedness to prosecute offenders “grotesquely deceptive in the face of this grim reality.”