Filipino lawyer Jude Sabio launches action over terrifying, gruesome and disastrous drug war that has left more than 7,000 people dead
A Filipino lawyer has filed a complaint at the international criminal court (ICC) accusing president Rodrigo Duterte and 11 other Philippine officials of mass murder and crimes against humanity.
In the first publicly known filing to the Hague court against Duterte, Jude Sabio submitted the 77-page complaint that says the president has repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously committed extra-judicial executions or mass murders over three decades, amounting to crimes against humanity.
It says the killing of 9,400 people began in 1988 when Duterte was mayor of the southern city of Davao and has lasted throughout his 10 months so far as president, during which he has waged a virulent and bloody war on drugs.
The communication is based on the reports of human rights groups, Dutertes own public admissions that he killed, media reports and the testimony of Sabios client, Edgar Matobato, a man who testified in the Philippines senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Dutertes orders.
The complaint also referred to testimony from retired police officer Arturo Lascanas, another hitman who said he personally killed about 200 people as a member of the Davao Death Squad. That organisation, Lascanas has said, regularly took direct orders from then-mayor Duterte to kill criminals, political opponents and journalists.
Sometimes we kidnapped our subject and put the packing tape on their head until they suffocated, and then we would throw them in the street, recalled Lascanas in an interview with the Observer.
Philippine lawmakers have dismissed the credibility of Matobato and Lascanas, while Dutertes aides have rejected claims that he killed or ordered unlawful killings, even after he announced that he threw one suspect to his death from a helicopter.
The 72-year-old leader has led a bloody campaign against drugs that has left more than 7,000 people dead since June last year, mostly suspected low-level dealers and alleged addicts. Rights groups say vigilantes, who conduct most of the killings, are paid by the police, a charge law enforcement denies.
A March resolution delivered by European Union lawmakers said there were also credible reports that Philippine police falsify evidence to justify extrajudicial killings. However, Duterte has enjoyed widespread domestic support and high approval ratings for his lethal crackdown.
The complaint to the ICC against Duterte and government officials called for an investigation, arrest warrants and a trial.
The situation in the Philippines reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extrajudicial executions or mass murder, the complaint said.
The ICC office of the prosecutor said in a statement said that it had received a communication. We will analyse it, as appropriate. As soon as we reach a decision, we will inform the sender and provide reasons for our decision, the office said.
Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for Duterte, dismissed the complaint as a cynical effort to undermine the president.
The so-called extrajudicial killings are not state-sanctioned or state-sponsored, Abella said in a statement. The intent of this filing in ICC is clearly to embarrass and shame the president, and undermine the duly constituted government of the Philippines.
Of thousands of complaints delivered to the ICC since it was set up in 2002, the body has delivered six verdicts.
The court has no powers of enforcement. It may take cases only when a nations own judicial system is unable or unwilling to investigate or prosecute.
ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in 2016 her office was following developments in the Philippines with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination needs to be opened.
I am deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements of high officials of the Republic of the Philippines seem to condone such killings and further seem to encourage state forces and civilians alike to continue targeting these individuals with lethal force, she said.
Reuters contributed to this report