Rights group: International Criminal Court probe to continue
Aurea Calica (The Philippine Star) - March 16, 2018 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — If it was a ploy to evade justice, President Duterte’s decision to withdraw the country’s ratification of the Rome Statute that created the International Criminal Court (ICC) may have come too late.

This was according to Param-Preet Singh, International Justice Program associate director of Human Rights Watch, who also called Duterte’s decision “a barefaced attempt to shield him and high-ranking officials from possible ICC prosecution.”

She said it was unfortunate that Duterte had to try to pull a stunt in an attempt to escape possible prosecution for alleged widespread violation of human rights in pursuit of his war on illegal drugs.

“But not so fast. A withdrawal from the ICC requires a formal notification to the United Nations secretary-general, which only becomes official one year later (based on Article 127 of the Rome Statute). Even then, the court can still prosecute any international crimes committed while the Philippines was still an ICC member,” Singh stressed.

“Those responsible for ICC crimes committed in the Philippines while the country is still a member could find themselves facing justice in The Hague,” Singh added.

She also said Duterte’s statement highlighted the urgent need for a United Nations-led investigation into the drug war killings.

“At the current session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Iceland’s foreign minister, Gudlaugur Thor Thordarson, reminded the council of its responsibility to try and ensure the Philippines meets its human rights obligations,” Singh pointed out.

A UN inquiry, she said, would add to international pressure on the Duterte administration to stop the killings and to cooperate with authorities involved in bringing those responsible to justice.

Under Article 127 of the Rome Statute, withdrawal from the ICC should not affect any cooperation with the court in connection with criminal investigations and proceedings against the withdrawing state.

Singh said Duterte’s decision was no surprise because soon after taking office in June 2016, he unleashed his “war on drugs” that has left thousands dead with no one being held to account for what his critics claimed was a crime against humanity.

HRW said it was the scale of the killings that prompted ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to announce last month that she would examine the deaths, many of which were believed to be “extrajudicial killings in the course of police anti-drug operations.”

“The prosecutor’s analysis of ‘drug war’ crimes could result in a formal ICC investigation if there is proof the violations amount to crimes against humanity, and in the absence of justice in national courts,” Singh said.

“Duterte has long shown disdain for the rule of law. Last August, Duterte vowed to pardon and promote – rather than punish – any police officer who carried out an unlawful killing,” Singh added.

No breach in sovereignty

The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) also expressed surprise at Duterte’s decision and stressed the administration cannot invoke the issue of sovereignty in its effort to stop UN special rapporteurs from doing their job.

“The Philippines has been a signatory to a number of treaties on human rights which, in turn, have given authority to these bodies to monitor the situation and recommend measures in improving the human rights condition in the country,” said the CHR in a statement.

The CHR has expressed concern over statements of President Duterte and some of his officials accusing international human rights groups of prejudging his administration.

“Expressions of concern on the human rights situation in the country should not be construed as partiality. As in the case of UN special rapporteurs, investigations are opportunities to clarify and collaborate in pursuit of better protection and promotion of human rights on the ground,” it added.

Last week, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said Duterte should undergo psychiatric evaluation for displaying intolerance to criticisms as well as low regard for human rights. His statement instantly drew brickbats from administration allies.

Zeid was specifically reacting to insults hurled by Duterte at special rapporteur for extrajudicial killings Agnes Callamard and to the inclusion of UN special rapporteur on the rights of indigenous peoples Victoria Tauli-Corpuz in the list of alleged terrorists identified by the Philippine government.

“Due process must never be compromised in the investigation and prosecution of cases. If all these basic human rights are observed, we will be treated with respect by the international community and there will be no reason for the international human rights bodies to assume jurisdiction over what should otherwise be purely domestic affairs,” CHR added.

Former New Zealand prime minister and administrator of UN Development Program Helen Clark also decried Duterte’s mocking the UN and other international institutions critical of his human rights record.

“We can all point fingers on shortcomings in just about every international organization… We can all find fault. But these institutions are extremely important,” she said at a forum at the Ateneo de Manila University.

“I come from a small country, very small population unlike the Philippines, and for small countries, multilateral institutions are so important. Because they set the rules of the game – that it’s an international rules-based world that we need,” she added.

Clark did not comment on Duterte’s decision to pull out from the ICC, but said that it is important for countries to respect the “rules of the game” set by conventions and treatises.

Roque’s group hits decision

Even the Center for International Law (Centerlaw), an advocacy group co-founded by presidential spokesman Harry Roque, has criticized Duterte’s decision.

In a statement, Centerlaw said it “shares our people’s fear that this attempt to withdraw from the ICC will plunge the country deeper into the quagmire of impunity – one that has already claimed thousands of lives.”

“The attempt to withdraw from the ICC will not save anyone responsible for crimes against humanity from the ICC’s jurisdiction,” it added.

Roque co-founded the group in 2003.

“The country in fact had a leading participation in the establishment of the ICC, as the Philippines actively participated in the drafting of the Rome Statute,” said Centerlaw.

“The Philippine delegation brought with them to the Rome Conferences in 1998 our rich jurisprudential heritage in international criminal law, borne of our country’s tragic experience in World War II, and embodied in the landmark war crimes cases of top generals of the Japanese Imperial Army – Tomoyuki Yamashita and Shegonori Kuroda,” it pointed out.

Leni: Trashing ICC not good

For Vice President Leni Robredo, trashing the ICC “is bad for future generations, especially when leaders abuse their powers.”

She told reporters in Camarines Sur that ICC serves as a “safety net” especially in cases where institutions would prove to be unwilling or unable to address grave violations of human rights and serious crimes.

Robredo noted the contributions of Filipino diplomats and experts, including the late senator Miriam Defensor Santiago, in putting up the ICC and ratifying the Rome Statute that created the body.

Sen. Risa Hontiveros said Duterte’s move was prompted by his fear of being found guilty.

“President Duterte’s latest pronouncement may have damned him more as he may have unwittingly displayed his fear of being proven guilty over the crimes he stands accused of,” Hontiveros said in a statement.

Hontiveros reminded Duterte that withdrawal from the treaty would not discharge the Philippines from its obligations, “particularly our cooperation with the ICC conducting criminal investigations which were initiated before the said withdrawal.”  – Rhodina Villanueva, Janvic Mateo, Marvin Sy, Evelyn Macairan

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