The International Criminal Court has authorized a full investigation into the Philippine president’s “war on drugs”, saying it looked like an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
The judges said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe the crime against humanity of murder was committed during the crackdown, which killed up to tens of thousands of people.
Rodrigo Duterte withdrew Manila from The Hague-based tribunal in 2019 after opening a preliminary investigation, but the ICC has said it has jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member.
The ICC judges have said that “the so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign cannot be considered a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as sheer excess in a crime. otherwise legitimate operation ”.
The evidence suggests that a “widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population took place under or as part of state policy,” they said in a statement.
Former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked judges in June to allow a full investigation into allegations that police unlawfully killed tens of thousands of civilians.
The case will be taken up by his successor, Karim Khan, who took over shortly after.
The crackdown on drugs is Duterte’s signature political initiative and he defends it fiercely, especially against critics such as Western leaders and institutions who he says do not care about his country.
The leader was elected in 2016 on a campaign pledge to get rid of the drug problem in the Philippines, openly ordering police to kill drug suspects if their lives were in danger.
At least 6,181 people have been killed in more than 200,000 drug operations carried out since July 2016, according to the latest official data released by the Philippines in July this year. ICC prosecutors in court documents estimate the number of people killed to be between 12,000 and 30,000.
Prosecutors said Manila did not deny that people were killed during police operations, but “instead, they have consistently maintained that these deaths resulted from officers acting in self-defense” .
Duterte drew international censorship when he pulled the Philippines out of court. The judges said that even though the Philippines withdrew as a state party to the court, the alleged crimes took place while Manila was still under the Rome Statute, so it could still investigate them.
Established in 2002, the ICC is a so-called court of last resort and is only involved in the world’s worst crimes if its member states are unable or unwilling to do so. The investigation will also cover suspected killings in the southern Davao region between 2011 and 2016, when Duterte was mayor. They were allegedly committed by police and vigilantes, including a group calling themselves “Davao’s death squad”.
“The people involved in these murders in some cases seem [be] the same people who were subsequently embroiled in the ‘war on drugs’ campaign, ”ICC prosecutors said.
The majority of the victims were young men suspected of small-scale drug trafficking or petty crimes such as theft and drug use “while gang members and street children were also killed,” the officials said. prosecutors.
Tough-spoken Duterte has repeatedly asserted that the ICC has no jurisdiction over him and that he will not cooperate with what he called an “illegal” investigation, even threatening to arrest Bensouda at an given moment.
Rights groups hailed the move, saying the ICC ruling “offers much needed oversight” in Duterte’s “deadly war on drugs”.
“The families of the victims and the survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity can finally be brought to justice,” said Human Rights Watch researcher Carlos Conde.