The International Criminal Court (ICC) gave the go-ahead for an inquiry into the deadly “war on drugs” in the Philippines on Tuesday. Former President Rodrigo Duterte spearheaded the anti-narcotics campaign, which resulted in thousands of deaths and allegations of severe human rights crimes.
In September 2021, the ICC opened a formal investigation; however, it was put on hold after Manila declared it was conducting its own inquiries two months later.
ICC lead prosecutor Karim Khan succeeded in persuading the court to resume the investigation in June 2022. The Philippines, however, contested the ruling, claiming that the nation left the ICC in 2019, three years before to the resumption of the investigation.
On Tuesday, the ICC’s appeals judges rejected Manila’s objections.
Former Philippines President Duterte disagrees with the ICC ruling
A five-judge panel rejected Manila’s request on Tuesday and decided that the probes can proceed as planned. Families of the victims and rights organisations have praised the decision as another step in the right direction.
Human Rights Watch‘s deputy Asia director, Bryony Lau, said in a statement that the administration of [Philippine President Ferdinand] Marcos “should back up its stated commitment to human rights and the fight against impunity by carrying out its international legal obligation to cooperate with the court’s investigation.”
Duterte “has always maintained that as an independent and sovereign state, only Philippine courts can try any crime committed in Philippine territory,” former spokesperson Harry Roque said in a statement.
The former president “will face all his accusers anytime, but before Philippine courts and before Filipino judges only,” Roque added.
The Philippine office of the solicitor general, which serves as the government’s legal representation, expressed “disappointment” with the decision and added that the country would carry out its own investigation.
“The Republic, through its various national and local agencies, remains fully committed to the internal investigation and prosecution of allegations connected to the anti-illegal drug campaign,” the office said in a statement. “The majority decision does not alter that fact.”
Duterte initiated an anti-drug campaign and carried out multiple anti-drug operations after the 2016 election in the Philippines.
The ruthless crackdown resulted in the deaths of approximately 6,000 suspects, the most of whom were low-income individuals.
According to ICC prosecutors, between 12,000 and 30,000 people have died.
The Philippines was a member state of the International Criminal Court (ICC). The ICC is an international tribunal established to prosecute individuals for serious international crimes, such as genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity, and the crime of aggression.
However, it’s worth noting that the Philippines’ relationship with the ICC has been contentious in recent years. In 2018, the ICC announced that it had opened a preliminary examination into the Philippines regarding allegations of human rights abuses related to the government’s war on drugs. The examination was aimed at determining whether there was enough evidence to warrant a formal investigation.
In response, the Philippine government, under President Rodrigo Duterte, took the controversial step of withdrawing its ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC. The withdrawal was effective one year after the formal notification, which was in March 2019. Consequently, the ICC’s jurisdiction over any crimes committed in the Philippines before that date remained intact.