The suspension by the International Criminal Court (ICC) of its probe of the drug war killings in the Philippines was an “absolute betrayal” for the individuals who had provided testimony against President Rodrigo Duterte’s brutal war on drugs, a coalition of human rights defenders said on November 21.

According to the International Coalition for Human Rights in the Philippines (ICHRP), the suspension only “rewards” Duterte and further victimises those who gave evidence in support of the ICC probe.

In a statement, ICHRP chair Peter Murphy said their organisation was extremely disappointed over the ICC’s decision.

“Any suspension or delay is an absolute betrayal of those brave individuals who came forward at great personal risk to provide evidence and testimony regarding these alleged crimes,” Murphy said.

ICC Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan earlier announced the suspension of the probe following a November 10 request by the Philippine government to defer the investigation.

In a letter to Khan, Philippine ambassador to the Netherlands Eduardo Malaya said the government was already looking into the alleged extrajudicial killings and that the country’s justice system was working.

Malaya said the Duterte administration had begun its review of 52 drug war cases.

But Murphy cited the first and second reports by Investigate PH – an international coalition of civil, political and legal organisations – “clearly showed the flaws and failure of the domestic remedies now claimed to be operating”.

Murphy pointed out that Philippine courts were only able to convict two police officers for the 2017 murder of 17-year-old Kian delos Santos.

Delos Santos was among the over 6,000 people killed under Duterte’s war on drugs.

Human rights groups claim that close to 30,000 people, mostly poor Filipinos, were killed.

Murphy said Investigate PH had presented forensic evidence refuting government claims that victims in the war on drugs were killed by police in self-defence.

“The ICC needs to restart its investigation of all the evidence it has before it and give justice to the tens of thousands of Filipinos murdered at Duterte’s repeated incitement,” he said.

The ICHRP, Murphy said, continues to have confidence in the impartiality of the ICC and urged the body to resume its probe of the drug war killings and other human rights violations in the Philippines.

“We reiterate that the ICC should heed the call of these families to fully investigate the Duterte administration for these crimes against humanity so that, finally, justice may be served and impunity ended,” he said.