Activists and families of eight victims of the Philippines “war on drugs” have filed a complaint with the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of murder and crimes against humanity.
Tuesday’s 50-page complaint calls for Duterte‘s indictment over thousands of extrajudicial killings during his crackdown on drugs, which the activists and families said included “brazen” executions by police acting with impunity.
Critics of the campaign were being “persecuted”, they said, and cases filed by victims’ families had gone nowhere.
The latest move is led by a network of activists, priests and members of the poor, urban communities that have borne the brunt of a fierce two-year campaign in which police have killed about 4,400 people, causing international alarm.
“Duterte is personally liable for ordering state police to undertake mass killings,” Neri Colmenares, a lawyer representing the group, told reporters.
Duterte says he has told police to kill only if their lives were in danger.
In his annual address to the nation last month, he said the anti-drug campaign would be as “relentless and chilling” as its first two years.
In September 2016, an Al Jazeera investigation revealed that police officers were involved in attempted killings of unarmed drug suspects.
And in December 2017, Al Jazeera recorded cases of children being killed by police officers.
‘I will arrest you’
Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said the latest petition was “doomed” because the Philippines’ was no longer covered by the ICC’s Rome Statute.
Duterte unilaterally withdrew from the ICC’s founding treaty in March, saying it skirted due process and the presumption of his innocence, and sought to portray him as a “ruthless and heartless violator of human rights.”
He even threatened to arrest ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda if she were to comes to the Philippines to investigate him, and said he would convince other countries to follow him in quitting the ICC.
“Ms Fatou, don’t come here, because I will bar you. You cannot exercise any proceedings here without basis. That is illegal and I will arrest you,” Duterte said.
Opposition lawmakers maintain that Duterte’s withdrawal from the treaty, which takes effect in March 2019, was illegal because it was done without Senate approval.
They have challenged it at the Supreme Court, which started hearing oral arguments on Tuesday.
Jurist groups say that regardless of how the court rules, Duterte is not protected from a possible indictment because the alleged crimes took place while the Philippines was a member of the ICC, and therefore covered by its jurisdiction.
The Philippines is a signatory to the Rome Statute, a multilateral treaty that created the international court.
However, Duterte maintains the Philippines never actually acceded to the Rome Statute in 2011, because it was not published in the country’s official gazette.
The ICC is a court of last resort that can exercise jurisdiction if states are unable or unwilling to investigate crimes, which Duterte’s spokesman said was not the case in the Philippines.
According to a Human Rights Watch (HRW) report published in January 2018, more than 12,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office in June 2016.
Other estimates put the death toll as high as 14,000.
Duterte’s administration has disputed these numbers, claiming that 3,906 “drug personalities” were killed during police operations from July 1, 2016, to September 26, 2017.