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25 Apr, 2017 10:56

‘Mass murder’: Philippines’ Duterte target of ICC complaint

‘Mass murder’: Philippines’ Duterte target of ICC complaint

A Philippines lawyer has filed a complaint at the International Criminal Court (ICC), accusing President Rodrigo Duterte and 11 senior officials of “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” using “mass murder” in an anti-drugs crackdown.

Jude Sabio, the lawyer for Edgar Matobato, who has testified in the Philippines Senate that he was part of a hit squad which operated on Duterte's orders, said in his 77-page complaint that under Duterte killing drug suspects and other suspected criminals in a nationwide crackdown has become "best practice."

Sabio said that since Duterte became president “more than 7,000 drug-related killings by police and unknown armed persons occurred in his war on drugs at the national level.”

“The situation in the Philippines reveals a terrifying, gruesome and disastrous continuing commission of extra-judicial executions or mass murder, from the time President Duterte was the mayor of Davao City through his Davao Death Squad, up to the time that he became the president after 30 June, 2016 in his war on drugs at the national level,” the lawyer wrote in the complaint.

This “continuing commission of mass murder constituting a crime against humanity falls within the subject matter jurisdiction of the International Criminal Court [ICC],” he added.

Sabio said the allegations presented to prosecutors in the Netherlands are largely based on the testimony of Matobato, a self-confessed former member of the ‘Davao Death Squad,’ and Arturo Lascanas, a retired police officer who claims Duterte was involved in hundreds of extrajudicial killings when he was mayor of Davao City. Lascanas told AP last month he is ready to testify in domestic and international courts.

Ernesto Abella, a spokesman for Duterte, said the complaint was a "cynical effort" aimed at undermining the president, who has repeatedly denied personal involvement with any death squad. Duterte says his orders to kill drug suspects come with a warning that police must operate within the bounds of the law.

"The so-called extra-judicial killings are not state-sanctioned or state-sponsored," Abella said in a statement. "The intent of this filing in the ICC is clearly to embarrass and shame the president, and undermine the duly constituted government of the Philippines," he added.

Chief Presidential Legal Counsel Salvador Panelo dismissed the complaint as “black propaganda.”

“Apparently, the intention is to black propaganda [sic] the president, hoping that media worldwide would catch on it and paint the president as a murderer when, in fact, he's only doing his constitutional duty to protect and preserve this country,” Panelo said, as cited by the Philippine Star. “It will fail in making the people believe in the validity of the charge,” he added.

In September of last year, Philippines Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre dismissed the testimony of Matobato, saying his allegations against Duterte were “all lies, fabrications and have no credibility simply because there is no corroborating evidence.”

“It can only be the product of a fertile and coached imagination,” Aguirre told the Philippine Star.

Last month the outspoken Filipino leader warned of “more killings because they really fight back,” saying “it will not end tomorrow for as long as there is a drug pusher and a drug lord.”

ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement last year that she was aware of “worrying reported extra-judicial killings of alleged drug dealers and users in the Philippines.”

"Any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the Court," she added.