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ICC prosecutor requests probe into Philippines war on drugs killings

President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has been accused of sanctioning the killing of thousands in his so-called war on drugs. File photo by Keizo Mori/UPI
President of the Philippines Rodrigo Duterte has been accused of sanctioning the killing of thousands in his so-called war on drugs. File photo by Keizo Mori/UPI | License Photo

June 14 (UPI) -- The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court has requested it to investigate the Philippines for crimes committed by the state during its war on drugs that resulted in thousands of deaths.

Outgoing Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda on Monday formally requested the investigation into President Rodrigo Duterte's war on drugs that killed upward of tens of thousands of people as well as allegations of torture that go back to 2011.

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"I have determined that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder has been committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the Government of Philippines 'war on drugs,'" she said in a statement.

Bensouda, whose term ends on Tuesday, said she made her request after analyzing publicity available information about the Philippines, which has been under a ICC preliminary examination since February 2018.

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In response to the launch of the preliminary investigation, Duterte in March 2019 exited the Philippines from the international court that investigates charges of war crimes and genocide.

Though the Philippines has withdrawn from the court, the ICC still has jurisdiction over crimes that allegedly occurred when Manila was a member, Bensouda said.

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She said the preliminary information shows "members of the Philippine National Police, and others acting in concert with them, have unlawfully killed between several thousands and tens of thousands of civilians."

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"My office has also reviewed information related to allegations of torture and other inhumane acts, and related events as early as 1 November 2011, the beginning of the court's jurisdiction in the Philippines, all of which we believe require investigation," she said.

Any future investigation, she said, will fall to her successor, Karim Khan.

Duterte was elected president in 2016 and soon after launched its campaign against drugs, drug sellers and drug users. According to official government data, more than 289,000 people have been arrested and more than 6,000 have died between July 1, 2016, and April 30 in drug operations.

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Amnesty International called Bensouda's request "a landmark step" toward justice for the victims of the country's war on drugs.

"This announcement is a moment of hope for thousands of families in the Philippines who are grieving those lost to the government's so-called war on drugs," Agnes Callamard, Amnesty International's secretary general, said in a statement. "This is a much-awaited step in putting murderous incitement by President Duterte and his administration to an end."

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In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement, a grassroots rights advocacy group in the Philippines, said the request recognized the urgency of the situation and moves victims closer to exacting accountability from a government that made them reluctant to seek justice from their own country out of fear of reprisal.

"Duterte's brutal war on drugs normalized violence in our society and terrorized the population into silence," Judy Pasimio, an iDEFEND spokesperson, said in a statement. "He must be held liable along with the police and military leadership that implemented the bloody campaign."

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