Philippines: Investigation of Duterte abuses will go ahead, human rights groups say — Duterte “may have unwittingly displayed his fear of being proven guilty.”


Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency (PDEA) agents and police arrest an alleged drug dealer during a drug raid in Maharlika Village, Taguig, south of Manila on February 28, 2018. (AFP)

MANILA: President Rodrigo Duterte’s announcement that the Philippines will withdraw from the International Criminal Court (ICC) will not effect its investigation of alleged human rights abuses during his war on drugs, Filipino human rights groups said on Thursday.

Duterte announced on Wednesday that the Philippines would withdraw ratification of the Rome Statute, the treaty that established the ICC, “effective immediately.”

Sen. Risa Hontiveros commented that Duterte’s move “only exposed (his) fear of being subjected to international scrutiny and prosecution.”

She added that Duterte “may have unwittingly displayed his fear of being proven guilty.”

Hontiveros added even if it was lawful to withdraw the Philippines from the ICC — which it was not — Duterte could still be held liable for “offenses committed while the Philippines was signatory to the ICC.”

She pointed out Article 127 of the Rome Statute states that “a withdrawal is effective only one year after receipt of notification.”

On Thursday, Malacanang defended Duterte’s decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute, saying it was due to ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s violation of the principle of complementarity.

Image may contain: 2 people
Left: Rodrigo Duterte; Right: ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda

This principle states that the ICC can only prosecute crimes when the state’s local courts are unable or unwilling to do so, which presidential spokesperson Harry Roque, Jr. said is not the case in the Philippines.

Stephen Cutler, an international security expert and former Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) legal attaché, said: “The ICC has jurisdiction over incidents or crimes that occurred while the state is a member.

“So, if the Philippines withdraws, it doesn’t matter because what they’re looking at are civilian deaths that occurred while the Philippines was a member.”

Human Rights Watch Associate Director Param-Preet Singh explained that ICC withdrawal requires a formal notification to the UN secretary-general, and only becomes official a year later.

“Even then, the court can still prosecute any international crimes committed while the Philippines was still an ICC member,” Singh said, criticizing Duterte’s attempt to “run from justice.”

“His announcement to pull out of the ICC, which is designed to prosecute those most responsible for grave crimes, is a barefaced attempt to shield him and high-ranking officials from possible ICC prosecution,” Singh said in a statement.

He further said that Duterte’s latest move highlights the urgent need for a UN-led investigation into the drug war killings.

For his part, Sen. Antonio Trillanes IV, a staunch critic of Duterte, said the decision to withdraw from the Rome Statute is a political move by the president “because he knows that there is no way out for him in the ICC.”


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