Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte warned the International Criminal Court on Friday against carrying on with looking into thousands of deaths in his administration’s war on drugs, and threatened to arrest the ICC’s chief prosecutor if she came to Manila.
The court had no “jurisdiction even to conduct a preliminary investigation” into complaints about the Philippine anti-narcotics campaign, Duterte told ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, emphasizing that Manila had already notified the United Nations that it was withdrawing from body.
The ICC “will never have jurisdiction over my person, not in a million years,” the president told a news conference on Friday upon arriving from a short working trip to China.
“That’s why Ms. Fatou, do not go here because I will bar you,” said Duterte, who is known for using foul language in his criticism of international figures. “But what is your authority now? If we are not members of the treaty, why are you [expletive] in this country?”
“You cannot exercise any proceedings here without basis. That is illegal, and I will arrest you,” Duterte said.
Last month, the Philippines notified the U.N. about its decision to pull out of The Hague-based court. The ICC later said that the Philippine decision would not stop a preliminary examination it was conducting into allegations linked to thousands of killings committed in the Duterte administration’s drug war.
While the Philippines was well within its rights to pull out of the Rome Statute, an international treaty that gave birth to the ICC, its withdrawal would only take effect a year after notifying the U.N.’s secretary general, the court said.
‘Your position is flawed:’ Duterte
Since Duterte took power in 2016, thousands of drug addicts and pushers have been killed, many gunned down by policemen in supposed encounters while others were felled by pro-government vigilantes.
As of February, the official count by the national police put the figure at more than 4,000 dead. But these deaths were only of those people killed by police in what authorities claimed were legitimate gun battles.
Rights groups, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, say the actual figure is at least 10,000 – more than twice the number of those killed during the two-decade dictatorial rule of late Philippine strongman Ferdinand Marcos.
The killings of three innocent teenagers last year as part of the drug war unleashed widespread protests, which forced Duterte to temporarily halt the police-led anti-drug operations in the middle of 2017. But in December, he reinstated the police in the lead role, and vowed that the drug war would continue until the end of his six-year term.
On Friday, Duterte said he had consulted with presidential spokesman Harry Roque, an international law expert, and chief legal counsel Salvador Panelo, both of whom had assured him that the ICC had no legal legs to stand on.
While he was not afraid to face his accusers, Duterte said: “You can never call me to the International Criminal Court because your position is flawed.”
“So stop your nonsense,” he said.
The ICC last month stressed that its preliminary examination was but an initial step to determine whether there was reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation.
The court’s preliminary proceedings were based on a complaint by two former members of Duterte’s “Davao Death Squad,” which was responsible for dozens of deaths carried out when the president was mayor of the southern city of Davao. They claimed that Duterte took the strategy nationwide when he became president.