"Records of police insiders state that killings were planned in advance and that the self-defense scenario was simply staged."
In this column, sixth of a series, we continue to highlight the most important features of the International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber Decision to proceed with the investigation as per request by Prosecutor Fatua Bensouda.
Specifically, we mention the Chamber’s discussion on the following: Its role in the pre-trial phase of the proceedings, more on the claim by the police security forces of self-defense, and how the available materials and information are able to establish the requisite standard of proof to arrive at a reasonable observation that the killings in connection with the accused’s war on drugs are unlawful and unjustified.
As clarified by the Chamber, its role is to take into account all of the material presented by the Prosecutor in support of the request for authorization of the investigation, and decide on that basis whether the conditions for the authorisation of investigation are met.
On belying the claim of self-defense. In its observation on the persistent claim by security forces of self-defence, the Chamber categorically mentions the presence of information available on the record that prima facie disproves in many cases any scenario of self-defence on the part of the Philippine security force members. As also mentioned by the Prosecutor, the Chamber acknowledges that there could be incidents in which the use of lethal force was justified and lawful.
In highlighting the proof to dispel the claim of self-defense, the Chamber mentions the following: The fact that official claims of self-defence are often contradicted by witnesses, who stated that victims were unarmed, surrendering to the police or pleading for their lives; (b) surveillance footage or other video also contradicted official accounts; (c) The fact that many victims were last seen alive in police custody, yet the official report indicated that killings occurred during a buy-bust or similar operation; (d) The fact that many victims had wounds prima facie inconsistent with mere defensive action by the police, such as a large number of gunshot wounds, gunshot wounds to the back or the back of the head, wounds suggestive of execution (under the chin, to the temple or in the back, from downward trajectories, or at very close range).
Records of police insiders state that killings were planned in advance and that the self-defense scenario was simply staged. In many instances, there are strong indications of planting of evidence by the police at crime scenes, production of false or misleading reports, or other measures to buttress claims of self-defense. The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights found that recovered guns bearing the same serial numbers from different victims in different locations repeatedly suggest a pattern of planting evidence.
The Chamber also notes that in some cases, intimidation and fear of reprisal have been employed by the police in order to prevent family members from gaining access to autopsy results or forensic reports, or to question police narratives.
All these taken together, the Chamber says, will establish the requisite standard that Philippine security forces killed hundreds, if not thousands, in prosecuting the so-called war on drugs campaign.
The Chamber likewise delves on the killings committed outside of official law enforcement operations which are classified into three categories of perpetrators: (1) law enforcement officers concealing their identity, (2) private actors coordinating with and paid by the police, and (3) other private individuals or groups instigated to act by the government’s war on drugs campaign.
Agreeing with the Prosecutor’s preliminary assessments as stated in her Request, the Chamber finds that there is sufficient support in the available material at this stage of the proceedings. As found, Chamber believes in the reliability of the information that “members of law enforcement in plain clothes perpetrated killings, after which measures were taken to make the killings appear as if they had been perpetrated by private actors.”
Moreover, the Chamber decision also says “there is indication that private perpetrators were hired and operated under the supervision of police elements, or that they otherwise relied on a connection to the police in order to perpetrate the killings.” Still other perpetrators, the Chamber further adds, “apparently declared themselves to be ‘soldiers in President Rodrigo Duterte’s war against drugs’.” These vigilante-style killings typically contemplate three different scenarios: (1) ‘riding in tandem’ on a motorcycle or in a van, shooting the victims at close range, and swiftly leaving the area; (2) targeting victims at their homes; or, (3) killings in unknown circumstances, but with bodies disposed of in public locations, tied up and frequently displaying a cardboard sign purporting that the person was a drug user or dealer.”
Parallel to the observations made by the Prosecutor, the Chamber is of similar view that the above-mentioned observations will inevitably arrive at the conclusion “that it is sufficiently established, at the present preliminary stage of the proceedings, that private individuals killed persons as part of the so-called war on drugs campaign.”
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