The Philippines’ Supreme Court has ruled that the ICC has jurisdiction.
The International Criminal Court can pursue “government actors” for alleged crimes committed before the Philippines withdrew from the court, despite President Rodrigo Duterte’s claim that the court has no jurisdiction.
The Supreme Court decision, which was handed down in March but only made public on Wednesday, comes as prosecutors at the world’s only permanent war crimes court want a comprehensive probe into Duterte’s drug campaign, which activists say has killed tens of thousands of people.
Duterte was elected in 2016 on a promise to end the country’s drug problem, and he has publicly ordered police to kill suspects if their lives are in danger.
The president has stated that he will never participate with an ICC investigation, stating that the tribunal has no authority over the country.
After the ICC started a preliminary investigation into the anti-narcotics crackdown, the Philippines departed the court in 2019.
The Supreme Court’s full bench disagreed, stating that the ICC “retains jurisdiction over any and all actions committed by government actors until March 17, 2019” – spanning Duterte’s presidency and drug campaign for the first three years.
The 15 judges said in the ruling that Duterte’s decision to withdraw from the ICC “does not affect the liabilities of individuals charged before the International Criminal Court for acts committed up to this date,” dismissing a petition filed by six current and former senators challenging Duterte’s decision.
“This will keep Duterte awake from now on,” said Antonio Trillanes, a former senator and vociferous critic who was one of the petitioners.
A request for reaction from presidential spokesman Harry Roque was not immediately returned.
“This is excellent,” said Edre Olalia, president of the National Union of People’s Lawyers, which is defending some of the relatives of drug war victims in the ICC case.
Olalia stated that he believes there is sufficient evidence to charge Duterte, but that it will take time.
He told AFP, “We are ready for the long haul.”
The one-term limit in the Philippine constitution prevents Duterte from seeking re-election next year.
He has, however, mentioned the prospect of standing for vice president.
Sara, his daughter, is widely expected to run for the top post, and if she does, she may be able to protect her father from criminal charges if she wins.