Philippine lawyer goes to ICC against Duterte

Philippine lawyer goes to ICC against DuterteA Philippines lawyer filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC) against President Rodrigo Duterte and senior officials, accusing them of crimes against humanity in a nationwide anti-drugs crackdown, Reuters reported on Monday.

Attorney Jude Sabio said in the 77-page complaint that Duterte "repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously" committed crimes against humanity and that under him, killing drug suspects and other criminals has become "best practice".

Sabio is the lawyer for Edgar Matobato, a man who has testified in the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad that operated on Duterte's orders.

It is the first publicly known communication to the ICC against Duterte and is based on the testimony of Matobato and retired policeman Arturo Lascanas.

The complaint alleges that Duterte and at least 11 senior government officials are liable for murder and calls for an investigation, arrest warrants and a trial.

Lawmakers found no proof of Matobato's Senate testimony, which the president's aides have dismissed as fabrication.

Almost 9,000 people have been killed since Duterte took office last summer. Police claim a third of those killings were in self-defence during legitimate police operations. Rights groups say many of the remaining two-thirds were committed by vigilantes cooperating with the police or by police disguised as vigilantes. Police deny this.

Duterte has persistently denied he is involved with any death squad and said that his orders to kill drug suspects come with the caveat that police should operate within the bounds of the law.

Duterte's chief lawyer on Monday dismissed a complaint as "propaganda", and doubted it had jurisdiction over the issue.

In a telephone interview with news channel ANC, Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo said the 77-page complaint was an attempted slur by the president's opponents. Panelo said there was no evidence to support allegations that state-sponsored extrajudicial killings had taken place under Duterte's presidency, or when he was mayor of southern Davao City.

Since it was set up in July 2002, the ICC has received over 12,0000 complaints or communications. Nine of these cases have gone to trial and six verdicts have been delivered.

The ICC has no powers of enforcement, and any non-compliance has to be referred to the United Nations or the court's own oversight and legislative body, the Assembly of States Parties.

The complaint is only a possible first step in what could be a long process at the ICC. The tribunal first has to decide whether it has jurisdiction, and then decide whether it should conduct a preliminary examination. It can then ask a judge to open an official investigation, which could lead to a trial.
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