MANILA Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is “very confident” he will escape International Criminal Court prosecution over thousands of deaths in his anti-drug crackdown, after the court announced a probe into alleged crimes against humanity, his spokesman said Friday, reports AFP.
The ICC’s initial inquiry into Duterte’s deadly drug war—its first preliminary examination in a Southeast Asian nation—is designed to help prosecutors determine if there is enough evidence of crimes that fall into its jurisdiction, which could lead to a full probe and eventually charges.
Duterte has overseen a crackdown on narcotics that according to official figures has left nearly 4,000 drug suspects dead at the hands of police, while rights groups claim the toll is around three times the numbers given by authorities.
“He is very confident that the prosecutor... will not go beyond a preliminary investigation,” Duterte’s spokesman Harry Roque told reporters.
Roque said a United Nations special rapporteur on extrajudicial killings in 2007 investigated Duterte’s role in 1,069 alleged death-squad killings in the southern city of Davao while he was mayor.
The mission did not lead to Duterte’s prosecution and Roque said the president expects the same outcome.
The Philippines leader is expected to comment on the ICC probe later Friday, in his first public appearance since it was announced.
Duterte won a landslide victory in 2016 elections largely on a pledge to eradicate drugs and has overseen the bloodshed since taking power.
In addition to the official toll, authorities are also investigating some 2,000 other cases of “drug-related” killings by unknown suspects.
Roque said Duterte welcomes the ICC prosecutor’s inquiry as a means to clear his name, but insists the tribunal has no jurisdiction.
“Our domestic courts are able and willing to prosecute these crimes,” Roque said.
“Moreover the alleged deaths attributed to the war on drugs is because of lawful police operations and cannot therefore constitute an attack against civilians which is required in the international crime of crimes against humanity.”
The ICC on Thursday announced the unprecedented decision to launch two inquiries at once, one in the Philippines and a second on alleged abuses during Venezuela’s political unrest.