The International Criminal Court (ICC) has temporarily suspended its investigation into suspected human rights abuses committed under Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte’s “war on drugs” campaign, following a deferral request filed by Manila, documents released on Nov. 19 revealed.
The Hague-based court in September authorized an official probe into Duterte’s anti-drug campaign that has left thousands of suspected drug peddlers killed.
According to the court documents, ICC prosecutor Karim Khan wrote that the Philippine government had filed a deferral request on Nov. 10 through its ambassador Eduardo Malaya, who cited the Philippines’ own investigations into the alleged abuses.
In his letter requesting a deferral, Malaya said the Philippines was “keen on ensuring the successful prosecution of cases that have been filed, or may be filed in court, against erring Philippine National Police members and others within its jurisdiction.”
“The prosecution has temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request,” Khan said, adding that the prosecution would seek additional information from the Philippines.
Duterte, 76, was elected in 2016 on a promise to eradicate drugs in the Philippines.
According to official data, at least 6,181 people had been killed in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations since July 2016. ICC prosecutors estimate the figure of deaths to be between 12,000 and 30,000.
Duterte pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2018, reiterating that his government will not cooperate with any investigation. But the court has jurisdiction to investigate crimes committed while the country was a member and up until 2019.
Despite Manila’s deferral request to the ICC, Duterte maintains that the ICC has no jurisdiction to indict him. His chief legal counsel, Salvador Panelo, told Reuters that “there is no inconsistency with the request for suspension of action.”
“We welcome the judiciousness of the new ICC prosecutor who has deemed it fit to give the matter a fresh look, and we trust that the matter will be resolved in favour of the exoneration of our government and the recognition of the vibrancy of our justice system,” Karlo Nograles, acting spokesman for Duterte, said in a statement on Nov. 20.
The National Union of People’s Lawyers, which represents some families of drug-war victims, called on ICC not to be swayed by the claims being made by Duterte’s administration.
It indicated the Philippine justice system “extremely slow and unavailing to the majority of poor and unrepresented victims.”
Commenting on the matter, Human Rights Watch said the government’s claim that existing domestic mechanisms afford citizens justice was absurd.
“Let’s hope the ICC sees through the ruse that it is,” Asia Director Brad Adam said in a statement.
Reuters contributed to this article.