MANILA, Philippines, Feb 9 – The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has announced a “preliminary examination” into Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s alleged crimes against humanity committed as part of his deadly war on drugs.
Here are five things to know about a campaign that has allegedly led to the deaths of thousands of drug suspects:
The case against Duterte was brought by a Philippine lawyer who accused the president of ordering the “mass murder” of thousands of people for dealing or using illegal drugs.
Police say they have killed nearly 4,000 suspects in legitimate police operations, while nearly 2,000 homicide cases that police describe as “drug-related incidents” are under investigation.
Rights monitors estimate the actual toll is now more than 12,000 deaths. Critics say police and vigilantes kill defenceless and innocent suspects in slums then plant drugs or guns on them.
Despite the outcry from rights groups and the dominant Catholic church, the crackdown is widely popular with a public fed up with high crime and a glacial judicial system that is perceived to favour the rich.
The Philippine president came to power in 2016 promising a ruthless war on drugs, and at times boasted of overseeing a so-called “death squad” behind the killings of more than a thousand petty criminals and his political opponents when he was mayor of the southern city of Davao for two decades.
Since his election as president, he has publicly called on police to “shoot-to-kill” suspects who resist arrest and vowed to protect law officers from prosecution, maintaining the anti-crime operations are tough but legitimate.
The ICC tribunal only acts when a country’s legal system is unable or unwilling to handle a crime against humanity a situation that the lawyer’s suit alleges now exists in the Philippines, a signatory to the treaty creating the tribunal.
There have been few prosecutions for the killings and no police officer has been convicted, but the government insists the ICC has no jurisdiction because the country’s courts are fully functioning.
The complaint includes depositions by two former Duterte security aides who confessed to being his hitmen who assassinated suspected criminals as well as political opponents while Duterte was mayor of Davao.
Jude Sabio, the Filipino lawyer who filed the ICC complaint, promises more witnesses if the prosecutor decides to proceed to a formal investigation. He also cites Duterte’s own pronouncements about killing suspects and mocking human rights.
‘I don’t give a damn’
The president denies being behind extrajudicial killings and has frequently lashed out at any foreign entity criticising his drug war, be they the US president, the European Union, the United Nations, or even the ICC itself.
“I don’t give a damn about being prosecuted in the ICC. Go ahead. It would be my pleasure to go to prison for my country. It would be a distinct honour for me, even if they don’t make me a hero, to die for my country,” he said last year after the complaint against him was filed.