MANILA, Philippines – The welfare of the families left behind should not be compromised as accountability is being pursued over the thousands of deaths under President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody anti-drug campaign.
According to international human rights lawyer Ruben Carranza, ensuring support for the families would help them in their grueling quest for justice for their loved ones.
"I think what's important is to ensure that families of victims, witnesses to the extrajudicial killings, receive the kind of support that they need, economically and socially, especially given that this is going to be a long process," he told Rappler editor-at-large Marites Vitug on Friday, September 7.
Duterte's anti-drug campaign has claimed the lives of more than 4,500 people in police operations. But human rights groups estimate the number of fatalities at more than 20,000, including victims of vigilante killings. (READ: The Impunity Series)
Victims' families also face several problems amid the climate of impunity, including being harassed and threatened as they file cases against alleged perpetrators, who are usually policemen.
This reality, according to Carranza, is the reason why witness protection is very important.
"Witness protection requires more than a government program, especially here where it is the government that stands accused of extrajudicial killings," he said.
Not taking care of possible witnesses who may be subjected to harassment can lead to problems. For example, witnesses in Kenya were "intimidated and are frightened."
Carranza also said human rights groups and lawyers must pursue accountability everywhere, not just before the International Criminal Court. (READ: ICC's track record and what it means for Duterte and the PH)
They should be ready "for any opportunity that arises that will help them pursue accountability."
"It can be a local court, a transition in which a new government decides it can actually prosecute crimes against humanity and extrajudicial killings committed in the country, and they can prepare for a United Nations commission of inquiry," Carranza said. – Rappler.com