MANILA – The International Criminal Court released a preliminary report on Tuesday showing evidence that crimes against humanity were committed in the Philippines under President Rodrigo Duterte, whose bloody drug war has left thousands dead since 2016.
The report was edited by Fatou Bensouda, the ICC Prosecutor General. He stated that “there is reasonable grounds to believe that the crimes against humanity through murder, torture and the infliction of grievous bodily harm and mental damage occurred”.
The court will decide in the coming months whether a full investigation should be opened. The Philippines officially withdrew from the ICC last year after several complaints were filed against Mr Duterte.
According to the Philippine National Police, around 8,000 people alleged to have been involved in the illegal drug trade have been killed since Mr Duterte began his bloody war on drugs. Rights groups have reported higher numbers, saying the violence has continued even as the country remains under a coronavirus lockdown announced in March.
The most recent incident happened last month when 27-year-old Vincent Adia was shot three times by unidentified guards on the streets of a city outside Manila. Spectators and witnesses took Mr. Adia to a hospital where a gunman came in and shot him twice, killing him in front of a stunned and terrified hospital staff.
Mr. Duterte has denied any connection to the killings, blaming them on beating men from rival gangs who want to eliminate one another. However, his rejection failed in 2018 when three police officers were convicted of the murder of Kian Loyd delos Santos, a 17-year-old boy falsely identified as a drug dealer.
The surveillance video showed police taking the teenager away before he was found dead a moment later. The police said it was a shootout. The murder sparked widespread public anger and forced Mr. Duterte to temporarily freeze the drug war.
Cristina Palabay, head of the Philippine rights group Karapatan, said Tuesday that the ICC report confirmed what was known all along.
“The complaints against Duterte at the ICC remain a very important and viable place to pursue justice and accountability, despite the Philippines’ withdrawal,” said Ms. Palabay.
While the ICC cannot force Mr. Duterte to appear before the court in The Hague, Ms. Palabay said the preliminary report is relevant to the fight for human rights in the Philippines.
Etta Rosales, former Chair of the Philippine Human Rights Commission, welcomed the new findings and stressed that the report was a triumph in efforts to hold Mr Duterte and his government accountable.
“We have repeatedly warned Mr Duterte that he would eventually face the law,” said Ms Rosales. “He will be held accountable for all the blood that has been shed. Time catches up with him. “
“Let this be an example of how no one is above the law,” she added.
Mr. Duterte has often ridiculed Ms. Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, and angrily dismissed the investigation. In March 2019, he withdrew the Philippines as a signatory to the Rome Statute, the international treaty behind the ICC
Ms. Bensouda’s office investigated allegations that unidentified attackers carried out “thousands of unlawful murders” in the Philippines and that Mr. Duterte and senior police officers “promoted and encouraged the killing of suspected or alleged drug users.”
Last week, Senator Leila de Lima, an outspoken critic of Mr Duterte, called his war on drugs “a machine of unjust deaths”.