Thousands to up to tens of thousands of people have been unlawfully killed by the Filipino police, says the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. But a big challenge awaits when the court actually initiates a lawsuit about the bloody drug war in the Southeast Asian country.
Crimes against humanity are likely to have been committed, Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda concludes on the basis of preliminary investigation. ICC judges are now examine her request for trial.
‘We don’t cooperate‘
But Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte puts his heels in the sand. “We’re not going to cooperate because we‘re no longer affiliated with the ICC,” his spokesperson said today. And that’s right; in 2019, the Philippines got out. The authorities then accused the criminal court of bias, just like now.
Incidentally, the Philippines‘s argument that they are no longer members does not matter to the ICC rules. Because the research focuses on the period from July 2016 to March 2019, when the country was still affiliated. That means that the court can simply investigate the allegations and any judgments are binding, says the ICC.
Stay away from The Hague
This reasoning is correct, emeritus professor of international law Willem van Genugten confirms. “But the president will think of something that really won’t get that case. If the court takes him, I‘m sure he won’t come to The Hague. Duterte will certainly not be the first defendant to stumble the case against him in such a way.”
The Rome Statute stipulates that the ICC should not prosecute a suspect in their demise. At most he or she may miss a number of sessions, it turned out years ago in the criminal case against the then vice president of Kenya.
The lawyer also expects the Philippine President to invoke immunity when a case comes. “As long as he is in office, he cannot be prosecuted.”
The 75-year-old Duterte will be president until next June. According to the Constitution, he cannot start a new six-year term after that. In theory, after that, he could become vice president or mayor again. But he would rather retire in 2022, Duterte said recently in an interview.
If Duterte‘s next government is favourable, Van Genugten believes it will be virtually impossible for the ICC to prosecute him. “Actually, prosecutor Bensouda says in her statement: I understand it if the case would not be carried out for practical reasons.”
The criminal court has limited resources and is currently investigating possible war crimes in fourteen countries. Since the ICC was founded in 2002, a total of four people have been convicted. Those statistics make it clear that the court must make sharp choices.
“The ICC will only waste time and money,” says Duterte’s spokesperson according to The Manilla Times newspaper. “Without State cooperation, there is no case, just on the basis of testimonies from communists and other political enemies of the president.”