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Philippines: Duterte cannot halt ICC investigation into murderous 'war on drugs'

Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled government is obliged to cooperate with ICC

“Try as they might, Duterte’s administration cannot stop the wheels of justice” - Rachel Chhoa-Howard

Responding to news that Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is still refusing to allow the government to cooperate with the International Criminal Court (ICC) if it opts to launch a formal probe into his murderous ‘war on drugs’, even after the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled to the contrary, Rachel Chhoa-Howard, Amnesty International’s Philippines Researcher, said:

“Despite President Duterte’s stubborn refusal, Amnesty International welcomes the Supreme Court’s ruling that the Philippines remains obliged to cooperate with the ICC during formal probes into the deadly ‘war on drugs’ – even if the state has withdrawn from the Rome Statute.

“Try as they might, Duterte’s administration cannot stop the wheels of justice. Whether they like it or not, international justice will eventually catch up with those who have committed crimes under international law in the Philippines.

“The pre-trial chamber should approve the prosecutor’s request to open an investigation so that individuals who are most responsible for the ‘war on drugs’ can finally be held to account.

“The Philippine authorities’ persistent efforts to deny access to the ICC represents a heartless rebuttal to thousands of bereaved families across the country.”

Background

On Wednesday (21 July), the Supreme Court of the Philippines ruled that the government remains obliged to cooperate in criminal proceedings of the ICC even if it has withdrawn from the Rome Statute – the treaty that formed the ICC.

Yesterday (22 July), Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque disregarded the court’s remarks, saying they represented the opinion of the justices, rather than a legally binding verdict.

In February 2018, the ICC launched a preliminary examination into possible crimes committed in the country. The following month, President Duterte announced that the Philippines would withdraw from the ICC. This withdrawal took effect on 17 March 2019, but did not remove the ICC’s power to investigate crimes in the country.

On 14 June 2021, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda announced that she has concluded her preliminary examination in the Philippines and is seeking authorisation from the Court’s judges for a full investigation into crimes against humanity, torture and other inhumane acts. A decision from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber is expected, but no firm date has been provided by the Court.

Since the beginning of the Duterte administration in June 2016, thousands of people mostly from poor and marginalised communities have been killed – either by the police or by armed individuals suspected to have links to the police – as part of the government’s so-called ‘war on drugs’.

Amnesty has published major investigations detailing ongoing extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations by police and their superiors. Amnesty has determined that the crimes reach the threshold of crimes against humanity. The killings continue unabated.

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