The new prosecutor of the International Criminal Court vowed that he will “uncover the truth” in his investigation into the so-called “war on drugs” in the Philippines.
Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte announced early this week that he would prepare his defense against the probe by the Hague-based tribunal into his anti-narcotics campaign.
Human rights groups have estimated that tens of thousands of people were in the campaign launched by Duterte when he came to power in 2016.
“My investigation will seek to uncover the truth and aim to ensure accountability,” said Karim Khan in his first response to a September 15 decision by ICC judges to authorize a full investigation.
Britain’s Khan, who took office in June, said he was “willing to constructively engage with national authorities” in the Philippines over the investigation by the world’s only permanent war crimes court.
ICC officials said the release of Khan’s statement was not linked to Duterte’s recent comments.
ICC judges gave the green light to the probe into Duterte’s campaign after saying it resembled an illegitimate and systematic attack on civilians.
The court said there was a “reasonable basis” to believe murder, as a crime against humanity, had been committed and said Khan could also probe reports of other crimes including torture, enforced disappearance, and sexual violence.
Firebrand Duterte pulled Manila out of the ICC in 2019 after it launched a preliminary probe, but the Hague-based court says it has jurisdiction over crimes committed while the Philippines was still a member.
After long refusing to admit it had any power to intervene, Duterte backtracked in a pre-recorded speech released on Monday.
“I will prepare for my defense in the ICC,” Duterte said in the speech, which came two days after he declared he would retire from politics.
“Just stick to the facts because there are records of it. I am not threatening you — just don’t cheat me on the evidence.”
The latest Philippine government data released in June shows that as of the end of April 2021, at least 6,117 suspected drug dealers had been killed during police operations.
Human rights groups and activists have said the number could be as high as 30,000, and many people were summarily executed, including children.