ICC to open full investigation into Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’


Intl desk, Sept 16: The International Criminal Court (ICC) has formally authorised an official probe into alleged crimes against humanity in Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs”, dealing a moral victory to human rights defenders and families of victims killed, including innocent children.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the Hague-based tribunal said there was “reasonable basis” to proceed with the probe noting that “specific legal element of the crime against humanity of murder” has been met in the crackdown that left thousands dead.

The ICC’s pre-trial chamber also said that the “so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation”.

The order to investigate was signed by Judges Péter Kovács, Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou and María del Socorro Flores Liera.

The court said that its judges considered evidence presented on behalf of at least 204 victims, and what they found suggested that a “widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy”.

Former ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda filed the request to investigate just before her retirement in June, alleging that “state actors, primarily members of the Philippine security forces, killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations.”

Bensouda’s successor, Prosecutor Karim Khan, will now oversee the actual probe and possible trial of the case.

When Bensouda’s recommendation was announced in June, Duterte dismissed the news saying it was “bullsh**” while threatening to “slap” the ICC magistrates.

Hearing the news of the ICC decision, Llore Pasco, a resident of Metro Manila whose two sons were killed in May 2017, said she is relieved that the case is moving forward. She was one of the mothers who petitioned the ICC to investigate the deadly “war on drugs”.

“God is great. I feel some sense of relief and happiness. Now there’s hope that the victims can attain justice, and those who committed the crimes will be punished,” she told Al Jazeera on Thursday.

‘Reign of terror’

Duterte ran for president in 2016 on a single issue of fighting crime in the Philippines. During his campaign and later on as president, he repeatedly urged police to “kill” drug suspects.

After taking office on June 30, 2016, he immediately launched his deadly campaign described by the country’s Catholic leaders as a “reign of terror”.

The latest government data released in June shows that as of the end of April 2021, police and other security forces have killed at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers during operations. But government figures cited by the UN in June 2020 already showed at least 8,600 deaths.

A Philippine police report in 2017 also referred to 16,355 “homicide cases under investigations” as accomplishments in the drugs war.

In December 2016, Al Jazeera reported more than 6,000 deaths in the drug war, raising questions about the inconsistency of the government’s record-keeping system and the possible “manipulation” of government data.

Rights groups say the number of deaths could be between 27,000 and 30,000. They accuse the authorities of carrying out summary executions that killed innocent suspects including children.

Among those killed were at least 73 children, with the youngest just five months old, according to a UN investigation. Countless people were also killed by “unknown” gunmen, who later turned out to be police officers, according to news reports.

Withdrawal from ICC

In response to the initial move of the ICC to look into the drug war in the Philippines, Duterte withdrew the Philippines’ membership from the ICC in March 2018. The decision came into force exactly a year later in 2019.

When he announced he was going to withdraw from the court, Duterte defended his crackdown, saying it was “lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, especially the youth”.

The court, however, pointed out that it still has jurisdiction over the alleged crimes committed at the time that the Philippines was still a signatory to the Rome Statute until March 2019.

‘Davao Death Squad’

Aside from the Duterte “drug war”, the ICC also said that it will look into alleged summary executions committed in the southern city of Davao between 2011 and 2016, when Duterte was mayor before he was elected president.

The ICC investigated at least 385 extra-judicial killings in Davao, covering the period that the Philippines was a state party to the Rome Statute.

Source: News Agencies