International People’s Tribunal: US, Marcos & Duterte Guilty of Massive War Crimes

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Press Statement
May 18, 2024

Brussels, Belgium (May 17-18) – The International People’s Tribunal in Brussels heard harrowing testimony from victims and experts detailing widespread human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed by the Philippine government and its military forces under the Marcos and Duterte Regimes and backed by the U.S. government.

“The International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP) is honored to endorse this International People’s Tribunal on the Philippines in 2024 to investigate alleged violations of international humanitarian law and war crimes against the Filipino people,” stated ICHRP Global Chairperson Peter Murphy. “The witnesses displayed the courage and determination of the Filipino people to assert their basic human rights to life, freedom, self-determination and genuine development.”

The IPT is a quasi judicial mechanism whereby evidence is presented to a panel of jurors to render judgment on specific charges, in this instance war crimes committed in the conduct of the civil war in the Philippines. The Jurors included: Lennox Hinds professor of Law at Rutgers University and former legal counsel for the African National Congress, Suzanne Adely President of the National Lawyers Guild (US), Severine De Laveleye member of the Chamber of Representatives of Belgium, Julen Arzuraga Gumuzio member of the Basque Parliament and Archbishop Joris Vercamen former member of the Central Committee of the World Council of Churches. The panel of eminent jurists heard two days of testimony from 15 witnesses covering specific violations of International Humanitarian Law.

Violations of International Humanitarian Law Under Duterte

On day one, victims provided chilling first-hand accounts of extrajudicial killings, torture, enforced disappearances, and attacks on indigenous communities defending their ancestral lands from mining and corporate plunder, under President Duterte’s regime. These included testimony from Brandon Lee, a U.S. citizen turned activist in Ifugao province who was shot by suspected state agents after being red-tagged, threatened, and surveilled. Lee survived and is now a quadriplegic, but in his words, “continues to use his voice” for social change.

Ariel Casilao spoke of the brutal murder of Peace Consultant Randall Echanis in his home while he slept in August of 2020. “The brutality, barbarity, and ruthlessness of the killing of Ka Randy is a crystal clear violation of International Humanitarian Law and all existing laws in the Philippines,” Casilao added, “Let me emphasize, Ka Randy was an unarmed NDFP consultant. He was a key figure in the peace negotiations.”

Eufema Cullamat testified about the killing and dehumanization of her daughter, Jevilyn Cullamat, by soldiers. Cullamat shared that soldiers photographed her daughter’s corpse as a “war trophy.”

Witness Jeany Rose Hayahay described how public schools for indigenous children in Mindanao have been branded as “communist” recruitment hubs and relentlessly targeted, their volunteer teachers killed or slapped with terrorist charges. Martial law in Mindanao enabled further militarization, restriction of movement, and normalization of impunity against the Lumad peoples.

Violations of International Humanitarian Law Under Marcos Jr. 

The second day covered violations committed since Ferdinand Marcos Jr. became President in July 2022. 

There was compelling testimony from Jonila Castro who along with a colleague Jhed Tamano was kidnapped by the Military in September 2023 in Bataan Province. After 17 days of interrogation the two were paraded by the military and NTF-ELCAC as NPA surrenderees at a public press conference. It was here that the two recanted their forced confessions and exposed their kidnapping by the military and police. This was another example of civilian activists being targeted by the military.

Another witness reported on indiscriminate aerial bombardment and shelling of communities in upland villages in Kalinga province. The military conducted multiple aerial bombings in two barangays in the municipality of Balbalan between March 5 and 9th, 2023. On March 9th at least 6 bombs detonated close to the Gawaan elementary school putting at risk students and teachers. These incidents constitute multiple cases of targeting civilians and civilian infrastructure. It was also pointed out that the communities under attack were also potential sites for a large hydro electric project which the residents opposed.

Another war crime was the murder of 5 NPA combatants in Bohol in February 2024. The military claimed that they were killed in an encounter, witnesses and social media posts show the victims still alive and in military custody prior to their torture and death. The evidence shows the 5 were victims of war crimes, specifically the failure to respect Geneva Conventions on the treatment of prisoners of war.

There was also testimony from Emile Fausto on the murder of her parents and young brothers aged 14 and 11 by the Philippine Military on June 14, 2023. Her parents were members of a local farmers organization, the four were shot in their house while asleep. They were targeted because of their membership in the local farmers group. They had been the victims of continuous threats coming from the military and had complained to authorities about military harassment. The 94th infantry Battalion were identified as the perpetrators of this crime, the father had been previously physically assaulted by soldiers while in custody for being a supporter of the NPA.

Many of the victims testified that there had been a failure to distinguish between civilians and combatants in the conduct of the Philippine government’s war on the revolutionary movement. The counterinsurgency campaign deliberately targeted civilians resulting in systematic harassment as was shown in the case of human rights worker Hailey Pecayo, the cases of Jhed Tomano and Jonila Castro and went on to the extent of attempted assassination and killing of a civilian political activist.

US Support of War Crimes in the Philippines

Marjorie Cohn, American legal scholar and Law professor emeritus at Thomas Jefferson School of Law, an expert witness on self-determination and international law, stated that the Philippine government, fully backed by the United States, has engaged in “violent repression of the Philippine people” and violations that constitute “war crimes under international humanitarian law.” She affirmed that the National Democratic Front’s armed struggle constitutes a legitimate war of national liberation protected under international conventions.

Teddy Casino, a resource person on counterinsurgency in the Philippines, testified that the U.S. has covertly enabled the Philippine military’s sweeping counterinsurgency program that indiscriminately targets and terrorizes civilian populations. He revealed that even as the U.S. outwardly criticized Duterte’s brutal drug war, it furnished millions of dollars in military aid and arms sales. “The current counterinsurgency program of the Philippine government [is] inspired, financed, trained and supplied by the United States government,” stated Casino. “The US hand has been present through every iteration of the Philippine counterinsurgency drive and its resulting human rights and [International Humanitarian Law] violations.”

Urgent Need for International Response 

The prosecution established through ample and credible evidence that the defendants, in carrying out their counterinsurgency campaign during the armed conflict, willfully engaged in a litany of egregious violations of international humanitarian law against the Filipino people. The United States government played a key enabling role, rendering it complicit in these atrocities. These abhorrent crimes included the killing of civilians, intentional attacks on civilians, indiscriminate warfare causing excessive injury and environmental damage, forced displacement, blocking humanitarian aid, acts of terror against civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture, desecration of the dead, abductions, unlawful detentions, and fabricated charges.

 After careful consideration of the extensive evidence, the tribunal unanimously found defendants Ferdinand Marcos Jr., former President Duterte, the Philippine government, Joseph R. Biden, and the United States government guilty of the alleged war crimes and violations of international humanitarian law.

This unequivocal verdict resoundingly condemns the defendants’ flagrant defiance of international rules of armed conflicts and fundamental human rights.

In wake of this critical ruling, ICHRP calls upon its members, network and people inspired by this tribunal to immediately hold a week of action in response, from May 21-27, mobilizing the broadest solidarity support for the Filipino people against the intensive, US backed counterinsurgency campaign that causes deep suffering and oppression in the Philippines.