Judges at the International Criminal Court on Wednesday gave the green light for a full investigation into crimes against humanity during the Philippines’ so-called “war on drugs.”
The Hague-based court approved the investigation despite Manila leaving the court in 2019 following a preliminary investigation into the crackdown on President Rodrigo Duterte.
Former ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked judges in June to authorize a full-blown investigation into allegations that tens of thousands of civilians were illegally killed by the police.
The judges “found that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation, pointing to the specific element of the crime against humanity of murder,” the court said in a statement.
The court said it appeared 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 available material indicates, at the required level, that a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population was carried out in accordance with or in support of a state policy,” he added.
The probe will cover the period from 2011 to 2019.
Firebrand Duterte attracted international censorship when he removed the Philippines from court after he launched his preliminary investigation into its drug crackdown.
‘The court retains jurisdiction’
But the judges said that even though the Philippines had withdrawn as a state party to the court, the alleged crimes occurred while Manila was still a signature of the Rome Statute of the court, so it could still investigate them.
“The court retains jurisdiction over alleged crimes that occurred on the territory of the Philippines while it was a state party,” the judges said.
Created in 2002, the ICC is a so-called court of last resort and only participates in the investigation of the world’s worst crimes if its member states are unable or unwilling to do so.
Repression is Duterte’s signature political initiative and he fiercely defends it, especially from critics such as Western leaders and institutions who, according to him, do not care about their country.
He was elected in 2016 with a campaign promise to get rid of the Philippine drug problem, openly ordering the police to kill drug suspects if their lives are in danger.
More than 6,000 people have died in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations carried out since July 2016, according to official data. Human rights groups estimate that the death toll could be several times higher.
Duterte, who speaks harshly, has repeatedly claimed that the ICC has no jurisdiction over him and that he will not cooperate with what he has called an “illegal” investigation, even threatening to arrest Bensouda.