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ICC resumes probe into Philippines drug war

By Agence France-Presse Published Jul 18, 2023 8:41 pm

International Criminal Court judges on Tuesday gave its chief prosecutor the go-ahead to renew a probe into Manila's brutal anti-drug campaign, slapping down an appeal by the Philippines against the move.

Former president Rodrigo Duterte, who initiated the drug war, pulled the Philippines out of the ICC in 2019, a year after the Hague-based tribunal began a preliminary probe into the crackdown which has killed thousands. 

The ICC launched a formal inquiry in September 2021, only to suspend it two months later after Manila said it was re-examining several hundred cases of drug operations that led to deaths at the hands of police, hitmen, and vigilantes.  

ICC chief prosecutor Karim Khan later asked to reopen the inquiry in June 2022 and pre-trial judges at the court gave the green light in late January, a decision which Manila appealed shortly afterward.

Judges at a public hearing at the court's headquarters on Tuesday "confirmed by majority... a decision granting authorization to the ICC Prosecutor to resume the investigations in relation to the situation in the Philippines."

A five-judge bench dismissed Manila's objection that the court had no jurisdiction because the Philippines pulled out of the ICC in 2019, some three years before the inquiry was resumed.

"The Appeals Chamber by majority... finds that the Philippines sets out the alleged errors in a manner that renders unclear both the precise nature of its challenge as well as the legal basis pursuant to which the challenge is made," presiding judge Marc Perrin de Brichambaut said.

Bryony Lau, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, said Tuesday the ruling marked "the next step toward justice" for victims and their families. 

But Philippines Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla, on the eve of the judgment, warned against foreign interference in the Philippines' criminal justice system.

"We are not a colony, we are not a territory of another country", he told reporters.

Remulla insisted the ICC was "not welcome in the Philippines" and the government would not enforce any arrest warrants issued by the court.

At least 6,181 people have been killed in more than 200,000 anti-drug operations carried out, according to the latest official data released by the Philippines. ICC prosecutors estimate the death toll at between 12,000 and 30,000. (AFP)