War crimes round-up: victims gain hope as ICC reopens Philippines drug war probe

Geneva Solutions’s monthly “war criminal hunt” in collaboration with the Geneva-based NGO Civitas Maxima.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) announced on 18 July that it will relaunch its investigations into an anti-drug crackdown in the Philippines that killed thousands of people after rejecting the government’s bid to block it.

The move is a big step towards justice for thousands of victims, who have had to wait almost two years since the ICC initially launched its probe, in September 2021, into possible crimes against humanity committed under former president Rodrigo Duterte’s leadership.

More than 6,000 people were killed, according to official statistics, during the ex-president’s brutal campaign to purge the country of illegal drugs, which launched soon after taking office in 2016. Duterte publically encouraged police as well as ordinary citizens to kill people they suspected were drug dealers or users.

Current president, Ferdinand Marcos Jr., should support these steps to put its bloody past behind it. However, throughout this process, the government has maintained that it will not cooperate with the ICC in any way, shape or form, seeing the court’s involvement as an affront to its national sovereignty.

But in rejecting Manila’s latest appeal this month to throw out the investigation, the ICC is reaffirming its clout: the court’s judges ruled that prosecutors still have jurisdiction over the alleged crimes – despite the Philippines’ objections – because they occurred before the country withdrew its membership of the court in 2019.

This ruling shows how the court can still flex its muscles and move forward with its probe – with or without the country’s cooperation. And importantly, after two years of uncertainty for victims and their families, the decision paves the way for international prosecutors to bring accountability for these killings. Even though the case will move forward without the cooperation of the Philippines, it’s in the interest of victims and the country that the government  cooperates with the court.

Here’s what else happened this month

  • ICC to investigate alleged new war crimes in Sudan’s Darfur region. The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor Karim Khan told the United Nations Security Council that he is investigating fresh allegations of international crimes in Darfur, Sudan, including atrocities committed against the ethnic Masalit community. He also visited Bangladesh to hear testimonies of Rohingya refugees living in Cox’s Bazar as part of investigations for the Genocide case against Myanmar.
  • UK authorities investigate Nazi atrocities. The British government said it will carry out an investigation into Nazi concentration camps that functioned on its soil, on the tiny Channel Island of Alderney. It also confirmed for the first time that its special forces are at the centre of a war crimes inquiry for its involvement in alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
  • Syrian former rebel to face charges in France. Former spokesperson of Jaysh al-Islam Madji Nema, who moved to Marseille in 2019 and was arrested in 2020, will stand trial for complicity in war crimes committed between 2013 and 2016, notably against Syrian lawyer and journalist Razan Zeitouneh. Madjaliwa Safari, a 58-year-old Rwandan man living in France, was also indicted by a French court for crimes against humanity for allegedly participating in the execution of Tutsi civilians during the 1994 genocide.
  • West African court rules in favour of daughter of Gambian enforced disappearance victim. The Economic Community of West African States Court ordered the Gambia to pay $110,000 to the daughter of a Gambian citizen who had criticised former president Yahya Jammeh and then was never seen alive again. While the country’s national legislation does not yet criminalise certain atrocities such as enforced disappearance, the court has shown that justice can be endeavoured through a human rights approach.