The International Criminal Court (ICC) has approved a formal investigation into the “war on drugs” of the President of the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte, which has killed thousands of people.
Judges at the Hague tribunal said in a statement on Wednesday that there was a “reasonable basis” to believe that the crime against humanity had been committed by murder.
They added that the ‘so-called’ war on drugs ‘campaign could not be regarded as a lawful act of law enforcement, and that the killings should not be regarded as lawful or merely an offense in an otherwise lawful operation’.
Evidence suggests that a “widespread and systematic attack on the civilian population took place on the basis of or in favor of a state policy”.
The former chief prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, asked judges in June to launch a full investigation into allegations that the police had killed up to tens of thousands of civilians illegally. The case will now be taken up by her successor, Karim Khan, who took over shortly thereafter.
At least 6,181 people have been killed in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations carried out since the first day of Duterte’s presidency in July 2016, according to the latest official data released by the Philippines in July this year.
ICC prosecutors in court documents estimate the figure between 12,000 and 30,000 victims.
In December 2016, Al Jazeera reported more than 6,000 deaths in the drug war. It question mark the inconsistency of the government’s record system and the possible “manipulation” of data.
Rights groups say the death toll could be at least 27,000, including those killed by ‘unknown’ gunmen, some of whom appear to be dead. police officers.
The suppression of drugs is Duterte’s policy initiative for Duterte, and he defends it strongly, especially against critics such as Western leaders and institutions, who he says do not care about his country.
Duterte was elected on the basis of a campaign promise to get rid of the drug problem of the Philippines and openly ordered the police to kill drug suspects if their lives were in danger.
Prosecutors said the Philippines did not deny that people were killed during police operations, but rather consistently claimed that the deaths were the result of officers acting in self-defense.
Duterte received international disgust when he took the Philippines out of court in 2019 after it launched a preliminary investigation into his drugs.
But the judges said that although the Philippines withdrew from the court as a state party, the alleged crimes took place while the country was still inscribed with the Rome Statute of the court so that it could still investigate them.
The ICC, established in 2002, is a so-called ‘court of last resort’ and only becomes involved in investigating the worst crimes in the world if its member states are unable or unwilling to do so.
The ICC investigation also covers alleged extrajudicial killings in the southern Davao region between 2011 and 2016, when Duterte was mayor.
They were allegedly committed by local police officers and vigilantes, including a group calling themselves the ‘Davao Death Squad’.
‘Persons involved in these murders appear in some cases [be] exactly the same people who were later involved in the ‘war on drugs’ campaign,’ the ICC prosecutors said.
The majority of victims were young men suspected of small-scale drug trafficking or minor crimes such as theft and drug use “while gang members and street children were also killed”, prosecutors said.
Duterte has repeatedly claimed that the ICC has no jurisdiction over him and that he will not cooperate with what he called an ‘illegal’ investigation, and even threatens to arrest Bensouda at some point.
In a speech in July, the president ventured into court, saying he would continue his fight against drugs. ‘I never denied [it]”And the ICC can record it: ‘Those who destroy my country – I will kill you,'” he said.
But rights groups welcome the ICC’s decision.
The Philippine organization Karapatan said the court’s comments “confirmed the views of victims and their families”.
“Duterte and his groups must be held accountable for these crimes,” the court said in a statement.
“Families and survivors of victims have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity can eventually do justice,” said Carlos Conde, a researcher at Human Rights Watch.