The controversial Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte could face an investigation by the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity after a lawyer filed a complaint Monday with the court based on testimony from a man claiming to be a former member of Duterte’s notorious death squads.
In his 77-page complaint, Jude Sabio accuses Duterte of being a “mass murderer” and implicates 11 government officials — including the justice secretary and national police director general — in “repeatedly, unchangingly, and continuously” committing crimes against humanity. Under Duterte’s leadership, the killing of drug suspects and other criminals has become “best practice,” Sabio claims.
In a cover letter to the court, Sabio wrote, “Your favorable action on this matter would not only serve the noble ends of international criminal justice but would also be the beginning of the end of this dark, obscene, murderous, and evil era in the Philippines.”
The basis for the complaint is a story from one of Sabio’s clients, Edgar Matobato, who testified before the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad operating on Duterte’s orders. The Senate concluded there was no evidence to back up Matobato’s claims.
The complaint is also based on testimony from retired policeman Arturo Lascanas, as well as on reports from human rights groups and media reports, including a Reuters series on the killings.
ICC spokesman Fadi el Abdallah declined to comment on any possible filing, which is standard practice for the court. Duterte is also yet to react publicly, though based on his previous comments, it’s unlikely that he will be worried about a potential investigation.
“I will not be intimidated and I shall not be stopped just by what? International Criminal Court? Impeachment? If that is part of my destiny, it is my destiny to go,” Duterte told reporters last month.
The complaint says Duterte has been committing crimes against humanity ever since his time as mayor of his home town of Davao (he served several terms, in the late 198os to 2016) – indeed, the president has previously admitted to having links to the so-called Davao Death Squad.
When he became president of the Philippines in June 2016, Duterte expanded his violent campaign targeting both drug dealers and drug addicts nationwide. The program has already claimed the lives of more than 7,000 people, according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International — with other reports putting the death toll at 9,000.
Duterte was forced to temporarily halt his campaign in February after a rogue police officer killed a South Korean businessman. The campaign restarted again in March, though Philippine National Police chief Ronald de la Rosa said at the time that the new campaign — now called “Operation Double Barrel: Reloaded” — will be “less bloody if not bloodless.”