A prosecutor from the International Criminal Court, ICC, has announced the opening of a preliminary examination on Filipino President Rodrigo Duterte's War on Drugs to determine if crimes against humanity have been committed.
The investigation is being led by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, who said today the examination would review if crimes against humanity had been committed and whether the ICC will have the jurisdiction to bring suspects to trial, as this is only possible when local institutions fail to hold authorities accountable.
Harry Roque, Duterte's spokesman, dismissed the accusations and claimed Duterte is ready to “be in court and put the prosecutor on the stand,” even though Bensouda didn't specify a suspect.
Duterte came to power in 2016 promising a "firm hand" on drug trafficking and terrorism. Since his War on Drugs started in June 2016, about 4,000 Filipinos have been killed by police, but activists and organization claim the total death toll is much higher.
New York-based Human Rights Watch claims the War on Drugs responsible for an estimated 12,000 killings of “primarily poor urban dwellers, including children.”
”While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extrajudicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations” prosecutor Bensouda said.
In order to proceed, the ICC needs to open a preliminary investigation. Then, the prosecutor needs approval from international judges to open a formal investigation, if it's decided the crimes are serious enough to bring them into the court and if the court has jurisdiction.
The process could take Bensouda years of investigation.
Last April, Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio sent the ICC a complaint against Duterte and at least 11 senior officials, saying crimes against humanity were committed “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” and killing drug suspects and other criminals had become “best practice."
In 2017, Duterte admitted he had killed “drug addicts and pushers” while patrolling with police during his 22 years as Mayor of Davao, to show them “how it's done.” At that time, extra-judicial killings were already his policy.
He has also compared himself with Hitler, claiming he would massacre three million drug addicts just as Hitler did with the Jews. "Hitler massacred three million Jews ... there's three million drug addicts. I'd be happy to slaughter them," he said.
Since it was set up in 2002, the ICC has received more than 12,000 complaints or communications and only 11 formal open investigations, with only nine going to trial.
Of those 11 opened investigations, 10 are centered in Africa, for which critics have blamed the court of systematically targeting suspects in African countries as "war criminals," while ignoring European crimes.
Duterte has threatened to cancel the Philippines’ ICC membership and said European lawyers were “rotten” and “stupid”.