TIMELINE: ICC's probe into PH drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 18) — The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Tuesday decided to resume its long-delayed probe into the deadly drug war launched by the Duterte administration.

The ICC appeals chamber issued the ruling despite fierce opposition from the Philippine government, which questioned the tribunal's jurisdiction.

An ICC prosecutor estimated that around 12,000 to 30,000 civilians were killed from July 2016 to March 2019 in connection with former President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody anti-drug campaign. These figures are much higher than government data, which reported some 6,000 deaths.

CNN Philippines provides a timeline on the push to hold officials accountable for the thousands of killings, particularly through this "court of last resort."

October 2016

The ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda expressed "deep concern" over the alleged extrajudicial killings in the Philippines' drug war.

She said her office will assess the need for a preliminary examination, adding that "any person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence" may be held liable in court.

February 2018

Bensouda announced that the court will begin a preliminary examination on the drug war to determine if there is basis to proceed with an investigation. 

Duterte welcomed the move, saying he was prepared should he be found guilty. His spokesperson Harry Roque said the president sees the ICC examination as an opportunity to repudiate allegations against him. 

March 2018

In a complete turnaround from his statements in February, Duterte said the country will withdraw from the ICC “effective immediately,” as he claimed that the ICC is being used as a “political tool against the Philippines."

April 2018

Duterte threatened to arrest Bensouda if she sets foot in the country to investigate the government's drug war. 

He maintained that the international tribunal has no jurisdiction over the Philippines and argued that the country's ratification of the Rome Statute — the treaty that formed that ICC — was never published on the government website Official Gazette.

March 2019

The Philippines withdraws from the ICC.

May 2021

Then outgoing Chief Prosecutor Bensouda requested permission from the ICC pre-trial chamber to conduct a probe into the Duterte drug war. The request was made public only in June 2021. 

Although the Philippines withdrew from the ICC in 2019, Bensouda said the court retains jurisdiction over crimes that were alleged to have occurred during the period when the country was still a state party to the Rome Statute.

Duterte, meanwhile, said he will only face a Philippine court with a Filipino judge should his drug war be investigated. 

September 2021

The ICC pre-trial chamber authorized the start of the drug war investigation, particularly crimes allegedly committed between Nov. 1, 2011 and March 16, 2019. 

The 2011-2019 time frame also covers similar crimes allegedly committed in the Davao region – where Duterte served as mayor — from Nov. 1, 2011 to June 30, 2016. This includes information on the so-called "Davao Death Squad" which allegedly involved law enforcement units, the chamber said.

For its part, the Duterte administration reiterated that it will not cooperate with the ICC. Malacañang said while the Philippines previously consented to being a member of the tribunal, the government will only acknowledge ICC’s jurisdiction if the country’s justice system no longer works — insisting that it does.

October 2021

New ICC Prosecutor Karim Khan vowed to conduct a successful drug war investigation and hold perpetrators accountable. He said his office was willing to "constructively engage" with Philippine authorities on this.

A couple of weeks later, the Department of Justice (DOJ) released details on 52 cases of deaths in the government's drug war — with the panel's review finding lapses in police operation protocols. 

Roque said the report "proves that the Philippine state has in fact investigated and prosecuted individuals for these killings."

November 2021

The ICC suspended its probe following a deferral request from the Philippine government.

The government argued that local authorities have already "undertaken, and continue to undertake, thorough investigations of all reported deaths during anti-narcotic operations in the country in accordance with the relevant procedures."

While the inquiry was halted, Khan said analysis of information already collected will continue and that the prosecution will ask Manila to submit additional information backing the request.

RELATED: ICC asks PH government for proof of 'genuine' drug war investigation

June 2022

Khan asked the pre-trial chamber to allow his office to continue its investigation, saying the Philippine government failed to properly conduct its own probe.

He said state investigations only included a small number of killings that did not lead to any criminal prosecutions.

RELATED: ICC asks PH to submit observations following prosecutor’s request to resume drug war probe

August 2022

Recently elected President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. said the Philippines will not rejoin the ICC. 

He also said local investigations into his predecessor's drug war are already ongoing and questioned the need to resume the international court's probe.

September 2022

The Philippine government asked the ICC pre-trial chamber to deny Khan’s request for the investigation to continue. 

January 2023

The ICC pre-trial chamber authorized the resumption of the drug war probe. 

The chamber said it is not convinced that the Philippine government is “making a real or genuine effort” to probe and prosecute regarding the matter.

In response, the Marcos administration said it will exhaust legal remedies to counter the probe, including elevating the matter to the ICC appeals chamber.

RELATED: PH gov't open to dialogue with ICC, but won't accept 'impositions' — DOJ chief

February 2023

The Philippine government filed its notice of appeal against the pre-trial chamber’s authorization.

Days later, Khan called for the dismissal of this request by the Philippine government. According to the ICC prosecutor, Manila has not provided any substantial argument to have the investigation suspended. 

In the same month, Marcos doubled down on his stance against the ICC, saying he cannot cooperate with the tribunal.

March 2023

The Philippine government requested the ICC to reverse its January 2023 decision to reopen the investigation. It also asked for a “suspensive effect” of that ruling – or the halting of the probe pending the resolution of the main appeal. 

Later that month, the ICC appeals chamber rejected the request for the suspensive effect.

Following this move, Marcos said the government has no other recourse but to disengage from the ICC. 

May 2023

The ICC approved the Philippine government's request to reply to the arguments raised by the ICC prosecutor regarding the country's appeal. It gave the Philippines until May 16 to submit its response.

July 2023

The ICC appeals chamber ruled that the court will continue to investigate the drug war as it rejected the Philippine government's plea against the resumption of the probe. 

The Office of the Solicitor General expressed disappointment in the ruling, which it said refused to recognize the Philippine government's "primary and sovereign right to investigate serious crimes."

READ: EXPLAINER: ICC and its authority