ICC’s move to probe PH ‘human rights violations’ has no effect on DOJ’s review of drug war cases

Published June 15, 2021, 12:02 PM

by Rey Panaligan 

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra

Justice Secretary Menardo I. Guevarra on Tuesday, June 15, said the move within the International Criminal Court (ICC) to start a probe on the reported human rights abuses in the Philippines “has absolutely no effect” on the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) review of cases involving deaths in illegal drugs operations.

Guevarra said the move of the ICC’s Office of Prosecutor will not also affect the Philippines-United Nations (UN) joint program on technical cooperation on human rights.

He commented on the move by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda who had applied for authorization with the international court’s Pre-Trial Chamber (PTC) to start an investigation in the Philippines.

Investigation was sought by Bensouda “in relation to crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court (ICC) allegedly committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 November 2011 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the War on Drugs campaign, as well as any other crimes which are sufficiently linked to these events.”

Bensouda’s request has to be approved by the ICC’s PTC before a probe can be started.

As part of the Philippine government’s commitment before the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), a DOJ-led panel has been reviewing since 2020 cases involving deaths during anti-illegal drugs operations that have taken place since 2016 under the administration of President Duterte.

In his UNHRC speech, Guevarra shared “the panel’s key findings in its initial output.”

“One of these (findings) is our observed deviation by some law enforcement agents from the standard protocols which require coordination with other agencies in law enforcement operations and in the processing of the crime scene,” he said.

He also told the UNHRC that “the panel’s next immediate task was to ensure that the proper disciplining authorities act upon and carry out the recommendations made by appropriate internal units for administrative and criminal action.”

“Since that statement at the Human Rights Council, the Department of Justice and the review panel have achieved significant progress towards the fulfillment of our mandate,” he stressed.

The Philippine National Police (PNP) and the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) had turned over to the DOJ for review records of about 200 cases involving deaths in the illegal drugs operations conducted by the two agencies.

Guevarra had said that “as the panel reviews these new records, the DOJ closely monitors the preliminary investigation and prosecution of 87 criminal cases lodged against over a hundred law enforcement personnel arising from alleged wrongful conduct related to or arising from anti-illegal drug operations.”

“The commencement of new investigations and prosecutorial action will depend on the outcome of the panel’s ongoing work,” he pointed out.

Also, Guevarra had said the Philippines and UN are set to sign a joint program that would help the country investigate and prosecute human rights abuses committed by government forces.

“We are presently in the process of finalizing the administrative requirements for the formal signing of this program document at the soonest opportunity,” he said last Sunday night, June 13.

He said that last May 31 the government and the UN resident coordinator completed discussions on the program document of the UN Joint Program (UNJP) on human rights.

“The three-year UNJP aims to support the Philippine government in strengthening its accountability mechanisms, the administration of justice as well as investigations and data collection on allegations on human rights violations,” he said.

“It also seeks to better promote the human rights- based approach to combating drugs,” he added.

Among other things, Guevarra also said the UNJP is aimed at strengthening of the domestic and investigative mechanism of the Philippine National Police (PNP) by capacitating it in “the tracking, evaluation and analysis and processing of allegations of human rights violations.”

“Furthermore, the UNJP envisions the establishment of a national referral pathway for human rights cases to assist complainants in a accessing appropriate and existing domestic mechanisms and thereby strengthening accountability,” he said.