Philippine lawyer accuses Duterte of 'mass murder' at ICC

Sophie MIGNON
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Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs is alleged to have killed some 8,000 people

A Philippine lawyer on Monday filed a complaint at the world's only permanent war crimes court against President Rodrigo Duterte, alleging his war on drugs has caused some 8,000 deaths.

Lawyer Jude Sabio urged the prosecutor at the International Criminal Court in The Hague to investigate Duterte and senior adminstration officials and bring charges of crimes against humanity against them for "the terrifying and gruesome situation of continuing mass murder in the Philippines".

Sabio, who is the lawyer for Duterte's confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, alleged the president "began his strategy or system of eliminating or killing persons suspected of crimes, including drug addicts and pushers" when he became mayor of Davao City in 1988.

"The 'repeated, unchanging and continuous' mass murder being conducted by the President Duterte has already resulted into the deaths of not less than 1,400 individuals in Davao City under his Davao Death Squad and not less than 7,000 individuals in his war on drugs at the national level," the filing said.

Sabio travelled to The Hague to hand over his 77-page complaint in person to the office of ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda.

Bensouda's office confirmed to AFP it had "received a communication earlier this morning by an attorney from the Philippines," adding it would "analyse the materials submitted, as appropriate" in line with the tribunal's guiding Rome Statute and make its decision later.

In October Bensouda said she was "deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements from high officials of the... Philippines seem to condone such killings".

She warned that "any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging ... the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable for prosecution before the court."

Duterte won election by a landslide last May largely on his promise to launch a war on illegal drugs.

Although the campaign has proved popular at home, the president has faced international criticism for the thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings.

- Police probe -

The Philippine government denies the allegations, and presidential spokesman Ernie Abella said Monday that police were already probing those suspected "of violating procedures."

He also pointed to an investigation by the country's Senate, in which Matobato was a star witness, and said the ICC "as a court of last resort, will only exercise jurisdiction over a case once legal remedies in the Philippines have been exhausted."

"The so-called 'extrajudicial killings', are not state-sanctioned or state-sponsored. Police authorities are conducting legitimate operations that require observance of operational protocols," Abella added.

According to the latest national police figures, police have shot dead 2,087 drug suspects, while unknown killers have murdered 1,398 others in cases described by investigators as "drugs-related".

Earlier official figures had put the death toll much higher, including some 4,200 killed in unexplained circumstances.

Since beginning work in 2002, the ICC says the prosecutor's office has received some 10,000 requests from individuals, groups or countries around the world to investigate alleged crimes.

It is then up to the prosecutor to decide if there is enough cause to open a preliminary inquiry into whether a full-blown investigation is merited. There are currently 10 preliminary examinations, and 10 full investigations under way.

A total of 23 cases have been recognised, securing nine convictions and one acquittal. Five trials are ongoing.