MANILA – The Philippines announced on Thursday that the International Criminal Court has launched a preliminary probe into alleged extrajudicial killings as part of a controversial anti-drugs campaign in the country.
The probe will collect and process information to allow the court to determine whether there was enough ground to launch a full investigation into the campaign that was launched by President Rodrigo Duterte and reportedly caused over 7,000 deaths in one year and seven months, presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said in a press conference.
“Our mission in The Hague was informed that the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court is opening a preliminary examination on the alleged acts associated with the campaign against illegal drugs covering the period of July 2016,” Roque had said in the press conference.
Roque said the Philippines will challenge the probe as the drug war is the country’s internal matter, which its courts were fully capable of handling.
He added there was already a case challenging the drug war in the country’s courts.
The war against drugs, he said, is a legal and legitimate police operation and “cannot be characterized as an attack against civilian populations.”
In January, the Philippines had threatened to withdraw from the ICC if it investigated Duterte’s campaign, claiming it would violate the principle of complementarity, according to which the ICC could intervene in a situation only if the concerned country’s courts were unable to do so.
The ICC, however, took up the matter after an individual in April sued Duterte for mass killings in the anti-drugs campaign, which he launched after he took office in June 2016.
He had waged a similar war on drugs for 22 years as mayor of Davao on the southern island of Mindanao.
The petitioner asked the ICC to sentence the Philippine president and 11 alleged accomplices, including Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre and police chief Ronald dela Rosa, to prison or life imprisonment for their role in the violent campaign.