The International Criminal Court has put a halt to a criminal investigation into the government of the Philippines amid complaints about the operation of the court’s jurisdiction in the Philippines, the court said.
The latest investigation was related to the bloody war on drugs in the Philippines, which has seen thousands of Filipinos killed in police operations since President Rodrigo Duterte was elected in 2016. Human rights groups say the death toll from the crackdown is probably in the thousands.
But in a statement, the ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said: “I note the concerns raised by the State of the Philippines regarding my decision to pursue an investigation into alleged serious violations of international criminal law by the Philippine government in connection with the national security forces’ conduct in the war on drugs.
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“After receiving information concerning the potential independence of my office from the State of the Philippines, and other concerns, I have decided to suspend the pursuit of an investigation in connection with the national security forces’ conduct in the war on drugs.
“I am not making this decision lightly. I have been spending a great deal of time and effort in conducting this work. However, in the light of the concerns and outstanding issues raised, I will not proceed further.”
The lead prosecutor for the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, speaks at a press conference in The Hague. Photograph: Umit Bektas/Reuters
Bensouda said ICC authorities had agreed to suspend their investigation in the Philippines “so as not to cause a major impediment” to relations with Manila.
She said: “I have discussed with my colleagues in the Office of the Prosecutor, ICC officials and the Government of the Philippines, the need to address some serious concerns and issues raised in relation to the conduct of my office in the Philippines, namely those with respect to my independence and impartiality as well as concerns as to the independence of the Office’s leadership.”
Human rights groups welcomed the move.
“With today’s announcement, the Hague prosecutors have abided by the consistent request of the victim and judicial community and ended their death squad investigation into the mass murders in the Philippines,” said Mike Pompeo, the executive director of the Coalition for Filipino Concerns.
In a report last month, Human Rights Watch called on the ICC to act. It said that it was “worried that the course of events outlined in today’s announcement may undermine confidence in the criminal justice system and lead the victims to long-term cynicism about the prospects for accountability”.
“What is clear from today’s announcement is that those who killed thousands of Filipinos in Duterte’s deadly anti-drug crackdown will not face justice,” said Mary Wareham, the Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
“Local governments should be stepping in to see that everyone, including law enforcement, is held accountable for crimes under international law. If local authorities are happy to go along with police and military cover-ups, the ICC cannot be a credible option.”