Protesters hold up pictures of victims of extrajudicial killings during Human Rights Day protests in Manila

Protesters hold up pictures of victims of extrajudicial killings during Human Rights Day protests in Manila, Philippines, on December 10, 2017, when thousands of Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte's critics marched the streets to condemn what they say are the many human rights violations under his watch.(Photo: Ezra Acayan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

ICC Approves Probe Into 'Drug War' Atrocities Carried Out by Duterte Regime

"Duterte along with his co-accused henchmen of the war on drugs will be facing justice."

The International Criminal Court on Wednesday authorized the start of an investigation into possible crimes against humanity committed by the Philippines as part of the brutal "war on drugs" unleashed by President Rodrigo Duterte.

Philippines-based group In Defense of Human Rights and Dignity Movement (iDEFEND) welcomed the announcement, saying it "removes all doubt as to the gravity of the crimes committed by President Duterte's anti-drug campaign."

"Duterte along with his co-accused henchmen of the war on drugs will be facing justice," said iDEFEND, "and the relatives of victims of extrajudicial killings and other atrocious human rights violations would have a real chance of regaining their dignity."

The prosecutor of the ICC announced in June a formal request for the probe. Laying out the case for authorization, the request stated in part:

Information obtained by the prosecution suggests that state actors, primarily members of the Philippine security forces, killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations. Markedly similar crimes were committed outside official police operations, reportedly by so-called 'vigilantes,' although information suggests that some vigilantes were in fact police officers, while others were private citizens recruited, coordinated, and paid by police to kill civilians. The total number of civilians killed in connection with the WoD between July 2016 and March 2019 appears to be between 12,000 and 30,000.

These extrajudicial killings, perpetrated across the Philippines, appear to have been committed pursuant to an official State policy of the Philippine government. Police and other government officials planned, ordered, and sometimes directly perpetrated extrajudicial killings.; They paid police officers and vigilantes bounties for extrajudicial killings. State officials at the highest levels of government also spoke publicly and repeatedly in support of extrajudicial killings and created a culture of impunity for those who committed them.

The ICC announced Wednesday that the body's Pre-Trial Chamber I judges granted the request. An ICC statement said the chamber assessed that Duterte's "so-called 'war on drugs' campaign cannot be seen as a legitimate law enforcement operation and the killings neither as legitimate nor as mere excesses in an otherwise legitimate operation."

"Rather," the judges found, "the available material indicates, to the required standard, that a widespread and systematic attack against the civilian population took place pursuant to or in furtherance of a state policy."

Events that will be investigated are limited to those throughout the Philippines between July 1, 2016 and March 16, 2019, and in the Davao area between November 1, 2011 and June 30, 2016. As such, the Philippines' withdrawal from the Rome Statute, which took effect on March 17, 2019, has no effect on the ICC's jurisdiction over the alleged crimes in question.

The announcement of the investigation was also welcomed by Philippine human rights group Karapatan.

Cristina Palabay, secretary general of the group, said that "the chamber's view that these attacks were widespread and systematic... reaffirms the views of victims and their families."

"Duterte and his cohorts should be made accountable for these crimes," said Palabay.

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