Reaction / ICC probes violence in the Philippines and Venezuela

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International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has announced the opening of two preliminary examinations into alleged crimes in the Philippines 'war on drugs' and against protesters in Venezuela. So what are the reactions?

The ICC announcement has been welcomed by civil society as "a clear sign that the ICC is asserting itself as a world court," said Amal Nasser, permanent representative to the ICC, the International Federation for Human Rights. "It is also important that the ICC moves beyond war zones to "where there is no armed conflict in order to address criminal tactics by authorities against gangs and drugs or against protesters."


A preliminary examination?

Preliminary examinations are intended to determine whether a full ICC investigation is warranted, considering whether the Court would have jurisdiction over the alleged crimes or if national prosecutions are being undertaken, and whether the interest of justice would be served by opening an investigation.

Bensouda underlined that primary jurisdiction lies with the national jurisdictions of both the Philippines and Venezuela to investigate and prosecute the alleged international crimes, underlining that the “preliminary examination does not equal an investigation.”

ICC preliminary examinations


Philippines war on drugs

In the Philippines situation, the ICC prosecutor will examine alleged crimes in the form of extrajudicial killings in the context of President Rodrigo Duterte's 'war on drugs' since at least July 2016. The Philippines became an ICC member state in 2011.

“Specifically, it has been alleged that since 1 July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing. While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations,” said Prosecutor Bensouda in a statement.

"Today's announcement marks a crucial moment for justice and accountability in the Philippines and offer a glimmer of hope to victims of the shocking atrocities committed in the government's so called 'war on drugs,’" said James Gomez, the Director of Southeast Asia and the Pacific at Amnesty International, noting the lack of action in the part of the Philippine’s authorities to act, and stating they have shown themselves as “unwilling and unable to bring the perpetrators to justice.”

In its World Report 2018, Human Rights Watch states that “The Duterte administration’s “war on drugs” has resulted in the deaths of thousands of mostly poor Filipinos. Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) data indicates that police operations resulted in the deaths of 3,906 suspected drug users and dealers from July 1, 2016, to September 26, 2017. But unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, bringing the total death toll to more than 12,000, according to credible media reports.”

“The policies of the so called ‘war on drugs’ are no justification for the extra-judicial killings, enforced disappearances and torture that claimed the lives of over 12,000 people, including children, in less than two years. The impunity for the commission of these crimes must end now by thoroughly investigating and prosecuting perpetrators,” said International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) President Dimitris Christopoulos.


Venezuela protest crackdown

The Venezuelan examination will examine alleged crimes in the context of the demonstrations and political unrest in the country since at least April 2017. 

According to the ICC prosecutor’s statement, “it has been alleged that State security forces frequently used excessive force to disperse and put down demonstrations, and arrested and detained thousands of actual or perceived members of the opposition, a number of whom would have been allegedly subjected to serious abuse and ill-treatment in detention.”

“The announcement by the ICC of the opening of a preliminary examination in Venezuela is an important sign that the ICC is playing its role as a judicial mechanism in the fight against impunity,” said Michelle Reyes, regional coordinator for the Americas, Coalition for the International Criminal Court. “While this is not a formal investigation at this stage, this step constitutes an important message to Venezuelan authorities that stresses Venezuela’s obligations, as a state party to the Rome Statute, to prevent, investigate and prosecute any crime that could fall under the jurisdiction of the ICC, and that the Court will be monitoring very closely national measures adopted in that regard.”

The most recent anti-government protest movement has been met with violent crackdowns by Venezuelan government and security forces under current President Nicolás Maduro.

According to Human Rights Watch, in 2017, security forces “detained more than 5,400 people between April and July. Members of security forces have beaten detainees severely and tortured them with electric shocks, asphyxiation, sexual assault, and other vicious techniques. Authorities have also arbitrarily prosecuted more than 750 civilians in military courts.”

In August 2017, media reported on the decision by the Peruvian Congress to send an official ‘communication’ on alleged crimes by the Maduro government to the ICC prosecutor. A communication is a mechanism for individuals, groups, states, intergovernmental organizations or NGOs to transmit information of interest to the ICC prosecutor under Article 15 of the Rome Statute. The ICC prosecutor may use this information in any decision to open a preliminary examination or investigation.

Note: An ICC preliminary examination of alleged crimes against humanity allegedly committed by the Venezuelan government and associated forces in the context of a failed coup d’état against then-president Hugo Chavez in 2002 did not proceed to a full investigation.

Venezuela crisis: What role for justice?


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