The International Criminal Court is now jumping into the fray.
After winning a landslide victory in June 2016, Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte immediately fulfilled a campaign promise and instigated a so-called ‘war on drugs’. He publicly endorsed the arrest and killing of suspected drug users and sellers. He even went as far as to promise the police that there would be no repercussions for their actions.
International human rights organisations such as Human Rights Watch have documented that 3906 suspected drug users and dealers died at the hands of the police from 1 July 2016 to 26 September 2017. Unidentified gunmen have killed thousands more, which brings the total death toll to more than 12,000. This is an incredible increase from the six-month period before Duterte assumed power in which 68 people died at the hands of the police in drug-related incidents. There has been a wider ripple effect: hundreds of thousands of people have given themselves up to the police in the fear that they may be targeted next.
Fatou Bensouda, the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), announced that there would be a preliminary examination on extrajudicial killings in the context of police anti-drug operations. This is an important step forward for the many victims, advocates and international supporters who argue that justice is not possible within the Philippines when the highest levels of government have promised to protect the police from repercussions. But there are three challenges to a successful investigation: the credibility of the ICC, procedural challenges, and expectations.