The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a preliminary examination into Philippine President Rodrigo Dutarte for his brutal “drug war.” Since 1988, when Dutarte was mayor of Davao City, over 12,000 drug suspects have been killed, reportedly at the hands of the state.
Dutarte’s hard line on drugs was actually an integral part of his presidential campaign, which makes him less receptive to public criticism. He continues to belittle and even jail public activists who speak about his brutality. Many of these killings have been reported to be extra-judicial in nature, which means that they strip the offenders of a proper legal process.
This situation is even more troubling because the Dutarte administration is actively working to justify the legality of the killings. No one in the administration acknowledges the illegality of the President’s harsh plan, effectively squandering the voice of those that are demanding judicial hearings.
The ICC released a statement on February 8 that it would begin a preliminary examination into the situation at hand. This examination does not begin the formal indictment process; rather, it is to determine whether or not the case falls under ICC jurisdiction. Such a process can take months or even years to complete. The formal investigation process can only begin after this investigation yields positive results. Dutarte is seemingly unfazed by this news, however, even urging the ICC to go ahead and try to indict him.
Even if charges against Dutarte are filed, which will most likely be for committing crimes against humanity, the ICC must rely on the Philippine government to physically arrest him and bring him to the Court in The Hague, Netherlands. Such an extraction would be difficult, seeing that Dutarte already has a significant hold on his bureaucracy. In the past few years, the legitimacy and efficacy of the ICC has been called to question.
The outcome of this case, if the ICC takes it on, may either quell or enflame current criticism of the court. In October of 2017, Burundi withdrew from the ICC largely in part of recent discussion surrounding a bias against African states. So far, nine out of ten of the ICC’s cases have involved African states.
If the case against Dutarte goes through, it will be the first ICC investigation of an Asian state. If the ICC does decide to indict Dutarte and is unable to arrest and imprison him, however, there may be more qualms regarding its effectiveness in actually bringing impunity to criminals. Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir has had two warrants for his arrest since 2010, but continues to remain in power because the ICC has been unable to pressure the Sudanese government to hand him over. If Dutarte can avoid arrest, the ICC may take a significant hit in its ability to deter future criminals, thus calling its efficacy into serious question.
Sheel Patel is an editorial intern at the International Enforcement Law Reporter.