PHILLIPINES President Rodrigo Duterte has declared he is a dictator in order to get things done, as the International Criminal Court (ICC) officially announced an investigation into his administration’s war on drugs on Thursday.
The ICC said in a statement it was launching a preliminary examination into alleged crimes committed in the Philippines under the anti-drug campaign hours after the president’s office said he was prepared to “personally” defend himself in court.
“It has been alleged that since 1 July 2016, thousands of persons have been killed for reasons related to their alleged involvement in illegal drug use or dealing,” said the Prosecutor of the ICC Fatou Bensouda.
“While some of such killings have reportedly occurred in the context of clashes between or within gangs, it is alleged that many of the reported incidents involved extra-judicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”
The Hague-based court has only publicly indicted 41 people from thousands of complaints since its inception in 2002.
During a meeting with surrendered members of the communist insurgent New People’s Army on Wednesday, meanwhile, Duterte said that “if you say dictator, I am really a dictator. Because if I don’t [act like a] dictator, son of a bitch, nothing will happen to this nation,” as quoted by the Inquirer.
Earlier this month, the presidential palace dismissed claims by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines that there was “creeping dictatorship” under his administration.
“The creeping dictatorship that, the Catholic hierarchy fears, is a far-fetched idea,” said his spokesperson Harry Roque. The president also said last month that the security forces should shoot him if he attempts to stay in power beyond 2022 when his term ends.
Duterte’s signature drug war began in June 2016 and has been widely condemned by rights groups, political opponents and the Catholic church in the Philippines.
Human Rights Watch estimated this month that more than 12,000 people have been killed by police and plain clothed gunmen since the anti-drug campaign began. Official statistics put the number of dead at around 4000.
Lawyer Jude Sabio lodged a complaint with the ICC last April claiming that Duterte had “repeatedly, unchangingly and continuously” committed crimes against humanity.
Last week, Amnesty International called for an investigation by the ICC into drug war killings, claiming that “the Philippines neither can nor should try to solve its drug problems at gunpoint.”
Duterte was “sick and tired” of being accused of crimes against humanity said Roque on Thursday, claiming that attempts to prosecute him at the ICC would fail.