Hague court to probe Duterte for drug war killings

The International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague will start investigating Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte (pictured) over alleged extrajudicial killings linked to the ongoing war against drugs.

Duarte has welcomed ICC’s preliminary investigation because he is sick and tired of being accused of crimes against humanity, his spokesman Harry Roque said on Thursday.

Duterte is willing to face the court if the case is to go ahead. If needed, he will argue his case personally, Roque said in a press briefing.

Defending Duarte, Roque said the war against drugs is a lawful legitimate police operation and cannot be characterised as attack against civilian population.

Earlier, in a speech at an international tribunal’s diplomatic conference in New York City in December last year, Roque had said ICC is a “court of last resort” and has no reason to investigate the administration’s war on drugs. ICC will only act if a case is not investigated or prosecuted by a national judicial system. The Philippines has a functional criminal justice system, he said.

But Param Preet-Singh of Human Rights Watch (HRW) countered this  by saying there has been no successful prosecution or conviction of cops implicated in summary killings despite compelling evidence of such abuse.

A petition filed by a Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio in April last year had accused Duterte and 11 other senior officials of mass murder of criminal and drug suspects after he became president on June 30, 2016.

The lawyer had represented Edgar Matobato, a self-confessed hit man for Duterte, while the president was still the mayor of the southern city of Davao.

In June last year, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV and Rep. Gary Alejano filed a supplemental communication against Duterte before the ICC, urging the international tribunal to look into the allegations against him.

At least 3,987 people were killed in police operations against drug suspects between July 2016 and January 17, 2018, according to official data.

HRW, quoting local rights and church groups, has put the death toll at 13,000, including those suspected to have been murdered by hired killers.

Duterte’s critics welcomed the ICC move describing it as the first step in exacting accountability from the government and finding justice for the victims of  the drug war.

Duterte has vowed in the past that the killings would end only if people stopped using and trading illegal drugs.

He said there are as many as 4 million drug addicts in the Philippines. Crystal methamphetamine, locally known as ‘shabu’, which allegedly comes mostly from China, is the most widely used narcotic in the country.