Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte yesterday declared himself beyond the jurisdiction of an International Criminal Court probe into thousands of deaths in his “drugs war”, claiming local laws do not specifically ban extrajudicial killings.
In a typically bombastic speech yesterday, a day after the ICC announced a preliminary inquiry into alleged crimes against humanity, Duterte renewed threats to withdraw from the world’s sole war crimes tribunal.
Duterte, who has overseen the bloody anti-drug crackdown since taking power in 2016, acknowledged that a previous Manila government ratified the treaty that established the ICC, but claimed it had not passed into local law because of a technicality.
“There is no provision of extrajudicial killing. It is not defined anywhere so how can you now accuse me of a crime,” said Duterte, speaking in his home city of Davao.
Police say they have killed nearly 4,000 drug suspects in the narcotics crackdown, while rights groups claim the toll is around three times the official numbers. The outspoken Philippine leader, who is accused of stoking the killings with inflammatory statements, took issue over the Philippines becoming the first southeast Asian nation put under a preliminary examination by the ICC prosecutor.
“There are so many massacres happening in all parts of Asia and you pick on me. You better clear that up because I will withdraw from the ICC,” he warned, echoing an earlier threat. In a separate speech to Davao businessmen late yesterday, Duterte issued a veiled warning to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.
“Do not go into that adventure. It’s a messy one,” he said. “You will know. You will get your comeuppance.”
The ICC’s initial inquiry is designed to help prosecutors determine if there is enough evidence of crimes that fall into its jurisdiction.
It could lead to a full probe and eventually charges.
Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque said earlier yesterday he was “very confident” he will escape ICC prosecution.
Roque said a United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings in 2007 investigated Duterte’s role in 1,069 alleged death-squad killings in the southern city of Davao while he was mayor.
The mission did not lead to Duterte’s prosecution and Roque said the president expects the same outcome.
Duterte won a landslide victory in 2016 elections largely on a pledge to eradicate drugs.
In addition to the official toll, authorities are also investigating some 2,000 other cases of “drug-related” killings by unknown suspects.
The ICC on Thursday announced the unprecedented decision to launch two inquiries at once, one in the Philippines and a second on alleged abuses during Venezuela’s political unrest.
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