Duterte crimes against humanity investigation moves a step closer

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The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) outgoing chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has formally requested an investigation into ‘the situation in the Philippines’, she has announced.

president Rodrigo Duterte
President Rodrigo Duterte

The ICC had been analysing the country’s situation since early 2018, she stated, and ‘on the basis of that work I have determined that there is a reasonable basis that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of the Philippines “war on drugs” campaign’. 

At least 6,000 people are known to have been killed under president Rodrigo Duterte’s anti-drugs crackdown, although campaigners believe the true figure to be far higher. Duterte, who was elected after promising on the campaign trail to ‘fatten the fishes’ on the bodies of dead criminals (DDN, October 2016, page 8), withdrew his country from the ICC after it began its preliminary examinations in 2018 and has said it would not cooperate with any investigation. 

Amnesty International called the move a ‘landmark’ step that brought justice closer for bereaved families. ‘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”,’ said secretary general Agnès Callamard. ‘This is a much-awaited step in putting murderous incitement by president Duterte and his administration to an end.’ 

The ICC’s intervention must ‘send a signal to the police and those with links to the police who continue to carry out or sanction these killings that they cannot escape being held accountable for the crimes they commit’, she added. ‘State-sanctioned killing and incitement to violence by government officials has become the norm under the Duterte administration. Considering the Philippine government’s role in these ceaseless killings and the absolute impunity which prevails in the country, the ICC investigation is a crucial step for justice to move forward.’