The Washington Post

Court backs probe of Duterte drug war

- BY REGINE CABATO regine.cabato@washpost.com

MANILA — Judges at the Internatio­nal Criminal Court authorized an investigat­ion Wednesday into possible crimes against humanity conducted during Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s violent “war on drugs,” saying alleged extrajudic­ial killings represente­d a “widespread and systematic attack” against civilians.

The investigat­ion opens a potential path for accountabi­lity in the Philippine­s, though any prosecutio­n is likely to take years. Duterte, whose term as president expires next year, is maneuverin­g to find a successor who can protect him from prosecutio­n.

Duterte, a populist who rose to power in 2016, is perhaps best known internatio­nally as the architect of a drug war that has killed thousands. Official figures count some 6,000 dead, but the ICC prosecutor previously estimated that between 12,000 and 30,000 civilians were killed between July 2016 and March 2019.

Judges conducting a pretrial assessment of prosecutor­ial material said they indicated the war on drugs “cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcemen­t operation, and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation.”

A spokespers­on for the president said that the Philippine­s would not cooperate with the investigat­ion, according to Reuters. The Philippine­s withdrew from the ICC in 2019, in what was widely seen as an attempt to evade a probe. Since then, Duterte’s representa­tives have argued that the country is not under the jurisdicti­on of the court, though the top Philippine court has said the country must still cooperate with some ICC investigat­ions.

The drug war is wildly popular in the Philippine­s, and Duterte positioned himself during his presidenti­al run as the only candidate who offered a solution to the prevalence of drugs, a longtime frustratio­n among the urban poor.

Human rights organizati­ons welcomed the announceme­nt, which offers hope to survivors as many cases languish in local courts. A verdict can take up to 10 years in the Philippine­s, and only a handful of killings under Duterte’s term have resulted in conviction­s.

“Duterte and his cohorts should be made accountabl­e for these crimes,” the human rights organizati­on Karapatan said in a statement.

Prosecutor­s are examining killings between 2011 and 2019, when the Philippine­s was party to the Rome Statute, which establishe­d the court. Deaths between 2011 and early 2016 cover Duterte’s time as deputy mayor and mayor of Davao City, where hundreds of killings were affiliated with a vigilante group known as the “Davao death squad,” which researcher­s and witnesses previously linked to Duterte.

The ICC prosecutor said that these Davao killings were similar to those across the country after he became president. Drawing a connection between Duterte’s approach in Davao and as president, experts say, could strengthen the case against Duterte by showing a pattern.

Duterte recently said he would take on a bid for the vice presidency in 2022, a move analysts say was primarily motivated by a desire to defend himself against the risk of prosecutio­n by the ICC.

 ?? NOEL CELIS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES ?? Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, then the Philippine National Police director, in 2017. The probe that the Internatio­nal Criminal Court authorized will look into possible crimes against humanity committed during Duterte’s war on drugs.
NOEL CELIS/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and Gen. Ronald dela Rosa, then the Philippine National Police director, in 2017. The probe that the Internatio­nal Criminal Court authorized will look into possible crimes against humanity committed during Duterte’s war on drugs.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States