HAGUE/ MANILA: The outgoing prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has sought authorization from The Hague tribunal to open a full investigation into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s ongoing war on drugs that killed thousands of people, including innocent children.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, whose term ends on Tuesday, said a preliminary probe that began in February 2018 determined “that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the Crime Against Humanity of murder was committed” in the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, which was when Duterte ordered that the Philippines withdrew from the court.
The suspected crimes happened “in the context of the government of Philippines ‘war on drugs’ campaign,” Bensouda said in a statement on Monday announcing that she was seeking judicial authorization to proceed with a full investigation.
“Information obtained by the Prosecution suggests that state actors, primarily members of the Philippine security forces, killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations.”
Duterte ran on a single issue of fighting crimes in the Philippines, and during his campaign and later as president, he reportedly urged police to “kill” drug suspects.
The latest government data shows that as of the end of April 2021, police and security forces have killed at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers during operations, although earlier government figures showed at least 8,600 deaths.
A Philippine police report in 2017, however, referred to 16,355 “homicide cases under investigations” as accomplishments in the drugs war.
As early as December 2016, media had already reported more than 6,000 deaths in the drug war, raising questions about the inconsistency of the government’s numbers.
Rights groups say the number of deaths could be at least 27,000, and accuse the authorities of carrying out summary executions that killed innocent suspects including children. Countless people were also killed by “unknown” gunmen.
Police say the suspects were killed when they resisted arrest and became violent, but there have been documented cases of suspects being executed, or survivors saying police shot unarmed civilians.
The drug war killings have also continued even in the middle of the coronavirus pandemic and lockdown, as Duterte vowed to that there is no stopping in pursuing suspects.
Bensouda said prosecutors also reviewed allegations of “torture and other inhumane acts, and related events” dating back to November 1, 2011, “all of which we believe require investigation”.
Those allegations centre in the city of Davao, where Duterte served as mayor for about two decades. In 2017, a retired police officer had linked Duterte and his men to nearly 200 killings in Davao.
In his regular press briefing on Tuesday, Duterte’s spokesman, Harry Roque, said dismissed the decision as “legally erroneous and politically motivated.”
He also said that the ICC “has no jurisdiction” of the alleged crimes, adding that the police officers have “the right to defend” themselves using “reasonable force” during drug operations, “and therefore, justified by the principle of necessity and proportionality.”
In an address recorded this week before the news of Bensouda’s request broke, Duterte called on human rights organizations to take a closer look into his war on drugs.
“You would notice that there are really persons who die almost daily because they fought back,” he said, warning drug dealers: “Do not destroy the country. I will kill you.”
Duterte had previously called bensoula “that black woman”, while calling another international human rights investigator, Agnes Callamard as “skinny” and malnourished.” Callamard is now the secretary general of Amnesty International.
The “war on drugs” has been a cornerstone of Duterte’s presidency since he came to power promising to crush crime, despite criticism from opponents and human rights groups of widespread abuses.
Amnesty International welcomed what it described as a “landmark step” noting that the killings continued “unabated”.
“This announcement is a moment of hope for thousands of families in the Philippines who are grieving those lost to the government’s so-called ‘war on drugs’,” Amnesty Secretary General Agnes Callamard said in a statement.
“This is a much-awaited step in putting murderous incitement by President Dutrete and his administration to an end.” (Int’l Monitoring Desk)