ICC Judges authorize Prosecutor to start an investigation into the Situation in the Philippines

Photo credit ICC-CPI
Coalition for the ICC

On 15 September 2021, International Criminal Court (ICC) Judges formally authorized the ICC Prosecutor’s to open an investigation into crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court allegedly committed on the territory of the Philippines between 1 November 2011 and 16 March 2019.

In their decision, the judges of Pre-Trial Chamber I (PTC I) concluded that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation into alleged Rome Statute crimes committed throughout the Philippines between 1 July 2016 and 16 March 2019 in the context of the so-called 'war on drugs' campaign, in addition to the killings in the Davao area between 1 November 2011 and 30 June 2016. The PTC I Judges received a total of 204 representations on behalf of victims, with the Registry assessing that they were made on behalf of 1,530 individual victims and 1,050 families. 

On 14 June 2021, the Prosecutor announced the completion of her preliminary examination of the situation in Philippines, having concluded that there was a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity has been committed. 

Subsequently, the Prosecutor requested authorization from the Judges to proceed with an investigation, where she submitted that there is a reasonable basis to believe that the crime against humanity of murder was committed from at least 1 July 2016 to 16 March 2019 in the context of the Philippine government’s so-called ‘war on drugs’ campaign. 

Based on the information gathered during the preliminary examination, the Prosecutor’s request suggests that state actors killed thousands of suspected drug users and other civilians during official law enforcement operations, estimating between 12,000 to 30,000 civilians killed in connection with the campaign. The OTP further alleges that similar crimes took place in the region of Davao from 1988 to 2016, and taking into account the Court’s temporal jurisdiction, its request also includes events in Davao from 2011 - 2016. 

In the request to the Judges, the Prosecutor notes that the scope of the investigation also include other alleged crimes within the jurisdiction of the Court which are sufficiently linked to the so-called ‘war on drugs’.   In their decision, the judges noted that the Prosecutor’s investigation could extend to any crime within the jurisdiction of the Court, limited by the temporal, territorial and factual parameters of the situation.

The ICC Prosecutor can now investigate alleged crimes committed on the territory of the Philippines. The Prosecutor may present one or more cases to ICC judges, who will decide whether to issue arrest warrants or summonses to appear. 



Dr. Aurora Parong, co-chair and spokesperson of the Philippine Coalition on the International Criminal Court (PCICC) said of the decision, "The Philippine Coalition on the International Criminal Court is encouraged by the fast action of the Pre-Trial Chamber to open an investigation into the Philippine war on drugs, four months after the Prosecutor requested for authorization. We consider this as a big step towards justice. The perpetrators of this crime against humanity are yet to be made accountable and with the start of the investigation, we are closer to tilting the scales of justice in favor of the victims."
She continued, “The families of victims of crimes against humanity are hopefully waiting for that day when they can see the perpetrators of the killing and those most responsible convicted for their heinous crimes. It will still be a long battle, but the evidence has already been secured during the preliminary examination, and witnesses are waiting to testify.”

“The International Criminal Court and its Prosecutor need the full support of states and civil society in this new investigation” said Melinda Reed, Acting Convenor of the Coalition for the ICC. “The Coalition for the ICC calls on all stakeholders to cooperate with the Court in this important development in the fight for justice for victims of alleged crimes committed in The Philippines’ ‘war on drugs’. It is crucial to support, defend and protect Human Rights Defenders that put their lives at risk to advance justice in The Philippines,” Reed continues. “The Coalition also calls on the Court to develop a clear communications strategy to reach victims and affected communities, inform civil society, governments, media and the public and counter mis-information as soon as possible.”

“FORUM-ASIA welcomes the International Criminal Court Pre-Trial Chamber’s decision to open an investigation on the Philippines, and supports its efforts towards accountability for the crimes against humanity in the context of President Duterte’s ‘war on drugs’, said Shamini Darshni Kaliemuthu, FORUM-ASIA Executive Director. “The investigation signals to human rights violators, who continue to repress their people, that they cannot escape international accountability. It is a message of hope not just to civil society and victims in the Philippines, but to others in the region whose rights are systematically violated by their leaders,” he continued. 

“The International Criminal Court’s decision to open an investigation into brutal crimes in the Philippines offers a much needed check on President Rodrigo Duterte and his deadly ‘war on drugs’,” said Carlos Conde, Senior Philippines researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Victims' families and survivors have reason to hope that those responsible for crimes against humanity could finally face justice.”  

“The ICC pre-trial chamber’s announcement sends a clear message to the perpetrators and architects of these crimes that they will not escape accountability. No one is above the law. Duterte’s government must immediately end the cycle of killings, remove those involved from the ranks of the police and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to trial,” said Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard.“For decades, the Philippines has been beset by a pervasive culture of impunity, but this has worsened under the Duterte administration with the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects since 2016. This probe finally offers victims a chance to obtain justice.”
She continued, “With the Philippines gearing up for its next presidential elections in 2022, this announcement from the ICC comes at a pivotal time. Human rights should be at the centre of discussions when the Philippines chooses its next leaders.” 



The Philippines became a State party to the Rome Statute on 1 November 2011. However, the government deposited a written notification of withdrawal from the Statute on 17 March 2018, which took effect exactly one year later. While the Philippines is no longer a State Party to the Rome Statute, the Court retains jurisdiction with respect to alleged crimes that occurred on the territory of the Philippines while it was a State Party, from 1 November 2011 up to and including 16 March 2019. 

The OTP has been examining the situation in the Philippines since February 2018, upon the Prosecutor’s own initiative under Article 15 of the Statute. In June 2021, the Prosecutor announced the completion of the preliminary examination, and submitted a request for authorization of opening of an investigation to the Judges. 

The situation in the Philippines was assigned to ICC Pre-Trial Chamber I in April 2021, and is composed of Judge Péter Kovács (Presiding Judge), Judge Reine Adélaïde Sophie Alapini-Gansou and Judge María del Socorro Flores Liera. 



ICC webpage on the Situation in the Philippines: https://www.icc-cpi.int/philippines

"The Philippines’ membership in the ICC comes to an end", CICC, 15 March 2019 https://www.coalitionfortheicc.org/news/20190315/philippines-leaves-icc