International Criminal Court to continue preliminary examination of Duterte drug war despite PH exit

The International Criminal Court in The Haugue, The Netherlands. Photo: ICC’s Facebook account.
The International Criminal Court in The Haugue, The Netherlands. Photo: ICC’s Facebook account.

The international tribunal International Criminal Court (ICC) announced this morning that it will continue its preliminary examination into the Philippine government’s drug war despite the country’s exit from the organization.

The Netherlands-based ICC announced this through a statement from its prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, which appeared on its social media accounts. In her statement, Bensouda said that the organization still has jurisdiction over the Philippines based on the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC.

She said: “Pursuant to Article 127.2 of the [Rome] Statute, and based on prior ICC judicial ruling in the situation in Barundi, the court (ICC) retains its jurisdiction over crimes committed during the time in which the state was party to the Statute and may exercise this jurisdiction even after the withdrawal becomes effective.”

Bensouda then added that her “independent and impartial preliminary examination” into the Philippines’ case will continue.

Bensouda is referring to the case of Burundi which withdrew from the ICC in October 2017, becoming the first nation to do so. Despite that, the ICC opened an investigation in November 2017 into the alleged crimes against humanity committed by government forces and citizens.

The Philippines left the ICC on March 17, making itself only the second country to exit the organization. President Rodrigo Duterte unilaterally decided to withdraw from the ICC in March last year due to what he said were the organization’s “baseless, unprecedented, and outrageous attacks” against him and his government in connection to the drug war which he launched in 2016.

Duterte also said the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines because the country’s ratification of the Rome statute that created the ICC was not published in the government’s official publication, the Official Gazette.

At the same time, the government insists that the ICC can only probe cases involving genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes if the local courts are unable or not willing to do so.

Last week, Duterte’s spokesperson Salvador Panelo said that the government will not cooperate with the ICC if they choose to investigate. He also said that the organization can only investigate if they started doing so before the Philippines’ withdrawal. However, he said what they have done so far is only a preliminary examination of the complaints that they have received.

Yesterday, Panelo said that ICC investigators will be blocked from entering the Philippines or will be deported if they conduct investigations in the country. His statement echoes Duterte’s threat to Bensouda in April last year where he said he will have her arrested if she comes to the Philippines to investigate.

The Duterte government launched its bloody drug war in 2016, where thousands of drug suspects have allegedly been killed summarily by members of the Philippine National Police (PNP). The PNP insists that many of the killings occurred because the suspects fought back, an excuse that many Filipinos have become skeptical of.

At the same time, there’s much suspicion that the PNP is not giving an accurate picture of the drug war. It estimated in February that 5,176 suspects have been killed in the drug war, and yet the CHR has said that as much as 27,000 have died.

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