THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The Philippines has asked the International Criminal Court to defer its crimes against humanity investigation linked to the country’s deadly “war on drugs,” the court’s chief prosecutor announced Tuesday. The request will delay and could even halt altogether the ICC probe into the deadly crackdown.
The Philippines argues in a letter to ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan dated Nov. 10 that it already is investigating the crimes and so the international court doesn’t have jurisdiction.
“The court may only exercise jurisdiction where national legal systems fail to do so, which is certainly not the case in the Philippines,” the letter said, citing domestic investigations.
Khan said that while his investigation, authorized by the court’s judges just over two months ago, must now be temporarily suspended, his office “will continue its analysis of information already in its possession and any new information it may receive from third parties.”
The ICC is a court of last resort for cases that countries are unwilling or unable to prosecute. Under the court’s rules, a country can request deferral of an investigation if it is already investigating the crimes.
Khan said in a statement that the nations seeking a deferral need to provide evidence of “concrete and progressive investigative steps” against suspects or alleged acts that fall under the ICC investigation.
He said that he would ask the Philippines “to provide substantiating information regarding the investigations and proceedings” it mentions in its request seeking deferral.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has defended the crackdown as “lawfully directed against drug lords and pushers who have for many years destroyed the present generation, specially the youth.”
More than 6,000 mostly poor drug suspects have been killed, according to government pronouncements, but human rights groups say the death toll is considerably higher and should include many unsolved killings by motorcycle-riding gunmen who may have been deployed by police.
Duterte has denied condoning extrajudicial killings of drug suspects although he has openly threatened suspects with death and has ordered police to shoot suspects who dangerously resist arrest.
Judges in September said there was a “reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation” into killings committed throughout the Philippines as part of the war on drugs, saying they appear to amount to a crime against humanity under the court’s founding statute.