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International Criminal Court Will

Investigate Duterte Over Drug War


A complaint filed to the International Criminal Court calls President Rodrigo Duterte
the “mastermind” of a campaign of extrajudicial killings in the Philippines.
Credit Rolex Dela Pena/European Pressphoto Agency

MANILA — The International Criminal Court said on Thursday that it was

opening a preliminary investigation into accusations that President
Rodrigo Duterte and other Philippine officials had committed crimes
against humanity in the course of the government’s deadly crackdown on

Fatou Bensouda, a prosecutor for the international court, said in a

statement that the inquiry would gauge whether there was enough
evidence to build a case. She said she would be looking at events since July
1, 2016, “in the context of the ‘war on drugs’ campaign.”

“My office undertakes this work with full independence and impartiality,”
Ms. Bensouda said. “As we do, we hope to count on the full engagement of
the relevant national authorities in the Philippines.”
Harry Roque, a spokesman for the Philippine president, said that the
government’s crackdown was a “legitimate police operation” and that the
president welcomed The Hague-based tribunal’s decision.

“He is sick and tired of being accused of the commission of crimes against
humanity,” Mr. Roque told reporters in Manila.

In a 77-page complaint filed to the tribunal in April, a Filipino lawyer

accused Mr. Duterte and 11 other officials of mass murder and crimes
against humanity. He called Mr. Duterte the “mastermind” of a campaign
of extrajudicial killings that dated to the late 1980s, when he became
mayor of the southern city of Davao, and that greatly escalated after he
became president.

The lawyer, Jude Josue Sabio, represented two men who said they had
been assassins for Mr. Duterte in Davao.

“I am elated and vindicated,” Mr. Sabio said, adding that he was

“confident we will hurdle this first big step, and hopefully a warrant of
arrest will be issued by the I.C.C. against Duterte and his cohorts.”

Mr. Duterte, who has bragged about personally killing criminals as mayor
of Davao, won the presidency promising to fill Manila Bay with the bodies
of drug addicts. After taking office, he urged the police to kill drug
suspects and promised to protect officers from prosecution. Thousands of
Filipinos have been killed by the police, in what the authorities said were
shootouts, or by unidentified gunmen.

Last year, after an outcry over the killings of three teenagers by police
officers, Mr. Duterte suspended the police operations and put the antidrug
campaign in the hands of the Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency. But he
put the police back in charge in December. Last week, the police said that
46 people suspected of using or selling drugs had been killed by the
policesince then.

That brought the police’s official death toll from the campaign to over
4,000, a number much lower than the estimated 12,000 deaths reported
by various international and local rights groups.

Senator Antonio Trillanes, a prominent political foe of Mr. Duterte, said

the news of a preliminary inquiry “should jolt Duterte into realizing that
he is not above the law. More important, this is the first step for the
victims’ families quest for justice.”

Mr. Roque, the presidential spokesman, played down the significance of

the inquiry, saying that the tribunal prosecutor was “merely exercising his
mandate to determine whether there is reasonable basis to proceed.”

The tribunal can take cases only if a country’s own judicial system is
unable or unwilling to pursue them, a condition that Mr. Roque said did
not apply to the Philippines. “We view, of course, this decision of the
prosecutor as a waste of the court’s time and resources,” he said.