The International Criminal Court has fired a warning shot over allegations of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines’ bloody drugs war at a time when critics in Manila have also begun speaking up.
In a statement on Thursday, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office is watching for signs of officials “ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing” to crimes against humanity.
“I am deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements of high officials of the Republic of the Philippines seem to condone such killings and further seem to encourage state forces and civilians alike to continue targeting these individuals with lethal force,” she said.
In the past three months, more than 3,000 drug suspects have died, either in police shootouts or summary executions. Bodies have been found dumped with cardboard signs branding them drug pushers.
Manila is a party to the ICC, which gives the court jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Philippines and those committed elsewhere by Philippine nationals. Bensouda said extrajudicial killings are indictable if they are part of a systematic state-sponsored attack on civilians.
In her statement, the prosecutor did not name Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte as among the officials under suspicion, but he is on record exhorting police and others to kill dealers and addicts alike.
In comments he later apologized for, Duterte went so far as to say he would be happy to kill as many drug abusers as the sum total of Nazi Germany’s victims in the Holocaust.
But he has been deaf to criticism of his approach, going so far as to release lists of officials purportedly associated with the narcotics industry. The lists gave rise to fears that individuals would be targeted without proven links.
On Oct. 5, the presidential office claimed “dramatic progress” in the campaign. A spokesman said this could be measured with a recent spike in the street price of methamphetamine.
Critics are becoming more vocal, accusing Duterte of shoving the law to one side.
“It appears that the overriding and singular policy of President Duterte is to obliterate the drug problem even at the expense of due process and the rule of law,” lawmaker and human rights lawyer Edcel Lagman said in comments cited by the Manila Bulletin newspaper on Oct. 6.
Lagman said Cabinet members appear to have sidelined their principal work to support the drugs war. He cited the example of the foreign minister making trips abroad “merely to deny, particularly in the U.S. and U.N., the human rights violations and extrajudicial killings.”
Philippine opposition leader Danilo Suarez has accused Duterte of making no headway against any other ills.
“One hundred days into (Duterte’s) presidency, we now want to see a president who is equally aggressive in his approach to crucial issues regarding traffic, flood control, taxation, education, health, poverty, hunger, housing, agriculture and other issues that beleaguer the nation,” Suarez said, according to the Manila Bulletin.
And amid criticism of a lackluster response by the influential Catholic Church in the Philippines, some Church leaders are speaking out.
The bishop of Novaliches, a district that includes northern parts of Manila, has called for “peace zones” where drug users can be given a chance to recover and re-enter the community free from fear.
It was a reference to the more than 700,000 narcotics users have reportedly surrendered to police and village officials. Officers have packed many of them into temporary holding centers.
Bishop Antonio Tobias went on to express alarm that the death toll is nearing the 4,000 recorded killings during martial law in the 1970s and ’80s. His comments were reported on Oct. 3 by the CBCP Monitor, the newspaper of the Catholic Bishops Conference of the Philippines.
Campaigners, too, are speaking up. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism has reported the existence of templates for officers to use in obtaining confessions and getting suspects to waive their rights.
These, the group says, amount to putting words in detainees’ mouths. It says that although such extrajudicial confessions are inadmissible in court, they may lead to further detention and the persecution of third parties named under duress.
The group also complained on Sept. 22 that authorities were stonewalling freedom of information requests pertaining to the drugs war. The center said officials had ignored repeated efforts to contact them, busting a 15-working-day deadline set by law.