Philippines: ICC launches probe into deadly “war on drugs”, seeks to end impunity

Responding to the International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber’s announcement that it has opened an investigation into the killings during the Philippine government’s deadly “war on drugs” and those in Davao City by the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS) from 2011 to 2016, Amnesty International’s Secretary General Agnes Callamard said:

“Amnesty International welcomes the ICC pre-trial chamber’s decision to authorize an investigation into crimes against humanity committed during the horrific “war on drugs”. Thousands have been murdered by the police and militias aligned with the government, and the killers have enjoyed almost complete impunity.”

“The ICC pre-trial chamber’s announcement sends a clear message to the perpetrators and architects of these crimes that they will not escape accountability. No one is above the law. Duterte’s government must immediately end the cycle of killings, remove those involved from the ranks of the police and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to trial.”

“For decades, the Philippines has been beset by a pervasive culture of impunity, but this has worsened under the Duterte administration with the widespread and systematic killing of thousands of alleged drug suspects since 2016. This probe finally offers victims a chance to obtain justice.”

Over the past year, there has been an upsurge of human rights violations in the Philippines, including waves of killings, threats, arbitrary arrests and detention of activists and human rights defenders. Recently, two lawyers were killed by unidentified men; Rex Fernandez was shot dead in Cebu City on 26 August 2021, while Juan Macababbad was killed on 15 September 2021 in South Cotabato. Fernandez was a founding member of the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL), of which Macababbad was also an official.

“With the Philippines gearing up for its next presidential elections in 2022, this announcement from the ICC comes at a pivotal time. Human rights should be at the centre of discussions when the Philippines chooses its next leaders.”

“It is now crucial that the international community steps up. It must reinforce the ICC’s investigation and mandate a comprehensive, UN-led investigation into the deeply ominous human rights situation in the country.”


The International Criminal Court (ICC) pre-trial chamber announced on 15 September 2021 that it has authorized the Office of the Prosecutor to open an investigation into crimes against humanity including murders committed in the context of the deadly “war on drugs” under the administration of President Duterte and also those in Davao City by the alleged Davao Death Squad (DDS) from 2011 to 2016.

Since the beginning of the Duterte administration in June 2016, thousands of people, mostly from poor and marginalized communities, have been killed by the police – or by armed individuals suspected to have links to the police – during the government’s so-called “war on drugs”.

Amnesty International has published major investigations detailing ongoing extrajudicial executions and other human rights violations by police and their superiors. The organization has determined that the crimes reach the threshold of crimes against humanity. The killings continue unabated.

Despite condemnation from the international community and local and international human rights groups, President Duterte continues to explicitly encourage police to kill and has promised them immunity. Rather than facing justice, implicated police chiefs have received promotions.

While the Philippines government has the primary obligation to conduct genuine investigations into allegations of crimes against humanity, it has repeatedly failed to do so.

Amnesty International and other civil society groups have repeatedly expressed concerns over the UN Human Rights Council’s failure to address the situation and the dangerous message it sends.