ICC to resume investigation into Philippines’s deadly drug war

Manila had argued it was conducting its own investigation into deaths under the controversial policy.

A group of women - some of them family members of people killed in the Philippines drug war - march for justice. They are wearing white, carrying placards and one has a loud hailer
Filipino activists and relatives of people killed in the country's war on drugs have been calling for justice for years [File: Eloisa Lopez/Reuters]

The International Criminal Court has said it will reopen its investigation into possible “crimes against humanity” in the Philippines over former president Rodrigo Duterte’s drug war, which led to the deaths of thousands of people.

The Hague-based court announced plans for an investigation in February 2018 but suspended its work in November 2021 at the request of the Philippines’ government after Manila said it was undertaking its own review.

Last June, having considered the files submitted by the authorites in the Philippines and others, ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan said the delay was not warranted and filed an application to reopen the ICC case.

The court has since been examining submissions from the Philippines, the prosecutor and victims. In a statement on Thursday, the ICC said it was “not satisfied that the Philippines is undertaking relevant investigations that would warrant a deferral of the Court’s investigations”.

The statement added: “The various domestic initiatives and proceedings, assessed collectively, do not amount to tangible, concrete and progressive investigative steps in a way that would sufficiently mirror the Court’s investigation.”

Duterte, a former mayor of the southern city of Davao who campaigned for office on a platform of fighting crime, launched his “war on drugs” as soon as he took office in June 2016, and repeatedly urged police to “kill” drug suspects.

A United Nations report in 2021 found that 8,663 people had been killed in anti-drug operations but the Human Rights Commission of the Philippines and local human rights groups say the toll could be as much as three times higher.

Human Rights Watch says it found evidence that police were falsifying evidence to justify unlawful killings, with Duterte continuing the “large-scale extrajudicial violence as a crime solution”, which he had established during his 22 years running Davao.

““The ICC investigation is the only credible avenue for justice for the victims and their families of former President Rodrigo Duterte’s murderous ‘war on drugs’,” Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said in an emailed comment. “As the court’s judges agreed, Philippine authorities are not undertaking relevant investigations” into these crimes or “making a real or genuine effort” to carry these investigations out. The ICC offers a path forward to fill the accountability vacuum.”

The Philippines said it planned to lodge an appeal against the ICC decision.

“It is our intention to exhaust our legal remedies, more particularly elevating the matter to the ICC appeals chamber,” Menardo Guevarra, the chief lawyer for the government of President Ferdinand Marcos Jr who took office last July, told the AFP news agency.

Presidents in the Philippines can serve only one six-year term and Duterte stepped down after Marcos Jr won the elections. Duterte’s daughter was elected vice president.

Marcos Jr has said he will continue the “war on drugs” with a focus on rehabilitation, but rights groups say people continue to be killed.

Dahas, which keeps track of reported drug-related killings, said earlier this month that 324 people had died in the drug war in 2022, including 175 in the first six months that Marcos Jr was in power.

Duterte announced in March 2018 that he would withdraw the Philippines from the ICC – a decision that took effect a year later – and that his government would not cooperate with any investigation.

The court has jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed up until March 2019 when the Philippines’s withdrawal became official.

Source: Al Jazeera