Extra-judicial killings may fall under ICC jurisdiction
THE HAGUE - The International Criminal Court's chief prosecutor said on Thursday she was "deeply concerned" about thousands of alleged killings in the Philippines, warning that those responsible could face prosecution.
"I am deeply concerned about these alleged killings and the fact that public statements from high officials of the... Philippines seem to condone such killings," Fatou Bensouda said in a statement issued in The Hague.
Bensouda added she was also concerned that high officials "seem to encourage State forces and civilians alike to continue targeting these individuals with lethal force."
The Philippines has been an ICC member state since November 2011 "and as such, the Court has jurisdiction over genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on the territory or by nationals of the Philippines," Bensouda said.
"Extra-judicial killings may fall under the jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court if they are committed as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population pursuant to a State policy to commit such an attack."
She added that her office "will be closely following developments in the Philippines in the weeks to come and record any instance of incitement or resort to violence with a view to assessing whether a preliminary examination into the Philippines needs to be opened."
The ICC's prosecutor has to the power to ask the Hague-based court's judges to authorize a preliminary probe, which gathers evidence to see whether a full-blown investigation -- which could lead to an eventual trial -- should be opened.
The ICC, established under the 1998 Rome Statute, is a court of last resort. It only intervenes if a country is found to be unwilling or unable to prosecute crimes under its statute, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.
Since July Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has overseen a brutal crackdown on illegal drugs that has left more than 3,300 people dead, both at the hands of police as well as in unexplained circumstances, according to official data.
The United Nations, the European Union, the United States and international human rights groups have all raised concerns over alleged extrajudicial killings.
Bensouda issued a warning: "Let me be clear: any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing... to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable for prosecution before the Court."
The acid-tongued Duterte has rejected the allegations and called the campaign an internal affair of the Philippines.
He has also branded US President Barack Obama a "son of a whore" and UN chief Ban Ki-moon a "fool" over their criticism.
Duterte last month challenged Ban and international human rights experts to visit the country, both to investigate the allegations and to face him in a public debate.
On Wednesday Manila formally issued an invitation to UN Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard to investigate the killings.
The government had initially rebuffed Callamard when she announced plans to take up Duterte's challenge.
Callamard has since told AFP she would discuss with Manila the date and scope of a fact-finding mission, state guarantees for her freedom of movement and inquiry, and assurances about the safety of mission members and their interview subjects.
Duterte has insisted that he and his police forces have done nothing illegal, and that law enforcers have been forced to shoot and kill after suspects put up a fight. - with a report from Reuters