Rodrigo Duterte
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File photo of the entrance of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Photo: Reuters

Philippines says Hague court is weighing complaint against Duterte over drug war deaths

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has told the Philippines that it has begun a preliminary examination of a complaint accusing President Rodrigo Duterte of crimes against humanity, his spokesman said on Thursday.

The complaint, which claims Duterte is complicit in the illegal deaths of thousands of Filipinos during his war on drugs, was “a waste of the court’s time and resources” and the examination would be the end of the process, presidential spokesman Harry Roque said.

File photo of Harry Roque. Photo: AFP

About 4,000 Filipinos have been killed in the past 19 months during a crackdown that has alarmed the international community. Activists believe the death toll is far higher, while others say many of the deaths were probably carried out by the drug gangs themselves.

[Duterte] wants to be in court and put the prosecutor on the stand
Harry Roque, presidential spokesman

Prosecutor Fatou Bensou said on Thursday the examination was a review of whether crimes against humanity had been committed and whether the court might have jurisdiction to eventually bring suspects to trial.

“While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations” Bensouda said.

Roque said he had discussed the ICC issue for two hours the previous night with Duterte, a former prosecutor, adding that the president is more than willing to face trial.

“He’s sick and tried of being accused,” said Roque, an international law expert. “He wants to be in court and put the prosecutor on the stand.”

The website of the ICC, which is in The Hague in the Netherlands, carried no new information concerning the complaint against Duterte.

Since it was set up in 2002, the ICC has received more than 12,000 such complaints or communications, just nine of which have gone to trial.

Duterte has dared it to bring him to trial and said he would rot in jail to save Filipinos from crime and drugs.

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte saluting as he arrives to attend the Bureau of Customs anniversary in Manila. Photo: AFP

His tirades against the court are notorious, and include calling it “bulls***”, “hypocritical” and “useless”, stemming from one of its prosecutors saying there could be grounds for an investigation into his crackdown.

He also threatened to cancel the Philippines’ ICC membership and said European lawyers were “rotten”, “stupid”, and had a “brain like a pea”.

Police say those thousands of killings were during legitimate anti-drugs operations in which the suspects had violently resisted arrest. Duterte has boasted about killing thousands of drug dealers and has told police they can kill if they believe their lives are in danger.

But his critics accuse him of incitement to murder and of refusing to properly investigate allegations that police are planting evidence, fabricating reports and executing users and dealers.

Duterte rejects such accusations and typically chides the international community for listening to what his government says are biased human rights groups that have no proof.

Antonio Trillanes, who once tried from a five-star hotel in Manila to orchestrate the overthrow of former president Gloria Arroyo, has warned a coup was ‘very likely’ during Duterte’s rule. Photo: AFP

A Philippine lawyer filed the initial ICC complaint against Duterte and at least 11 senior officials last April, saying crimes against humanity were committed “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” and killing drug suspects and other criminals had become “best practice”.

Senator Antonio Trillanes and Congressman Gary Alejano sent a supplementary communication several months later urging an ICC investigation, which included a list of public statements made by Duterte that they said amounted to ‘shoot-to-kill’ orders.

Trillanes said the examination “should jolt Duterte into realising that he is not above the law”.

Roque called the complainants “domestic enemies of the state” and said the ICC had no jurisdiction.

Additional reporting by Reuters