Thursday, February 17, 2011

PH as state party in International Criminal Court

Filed Under: Crime and Law and Justice, Judiciary (system of justice), Foreign affairs & international relations

A FEW more pushes and a significant feature will be added to the Philippines’ history as a democratic nation. A few more steps and the Philippines will stand side by side with great democratic nations that have ratified the Rome Statute and joined the International Criminal Court (ICC).

After years of lobbying by ICC advocates in the Philippines, it looks like the waiting will soon be over. But two midwives—the executive and the legislative branches of government—will have to help in the birthing.

A backgrounder: The Rome Statute is the founding treaty of the ICC, the first permanent international court that is capable of trying perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes. With headquarters in The Hague, The Netherlands, the ICC represents one of the world’s most significant opportunities to prevent or drastically reduce the deaths and devastation caused by conflict. Created in 2002, the ICC is now a fully functional judicial institution, with all of the senior officials of the court in place.

With the 2010 ratification by Moldova, Bangladesh, Seychelles and Sta. Lucia, the number of ICC state parties has reached 114 or more than half of the world’s nations. Ratifying the statute will mean joining the global movement to end impunity.
The good news is that the only remaining government agency hereabouts that had consistently opposed ratification, the Department of National Defense, has finally changed its stand. The Coalition for the ICC (CICC-Philippines) has written a letter to President Benigno Aquino III asking that his office transmit the ratification bill to the Senate. This move is required by the Constitution. A two-thirds vote in the Senate is needed for the bill to be passed.
The Philippines is among the 139 signatory states, having signed the statute in 2000, but is not yet among the state parties now numbering 114. Being a signatory is one thing, getting a country to ratify and participate is another. The Philippines has seen developments in the ICC and was actively engaged in the United Nations Diplomatic Conference of Plenipotentiaries on the Establishment of an ICC in 1998. This means that the Philippines had demonstrated its commitment to the international justice system as enshrined in the Rome Statute of the ICC.

According to the CICC, ratifying the treaty would be consistent with the Philippine government’s commitment to uphold human rights as enshrined in the Constitution, and to advance international law as reflected in “The Philippine Act on Crimes against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes against Humanity,” adopted on Dec. 11, 2009. Mr. Aquino reaffirmed this commitment during International Human Rights Day in December last year.

Former CICC co-chair and now head of the Commission on Human Rights Etta Rosales has stressed that “ratifying the Rome Statute would demonstrate the commitment of the new government of the Philippines to uphold justice, human rights and the rule of law.” She urged the President “to facilitate the prompt treatment of the ratification dossier to allow the Philippines to continue its path toward becoming a state party to the treaty.”

Next month ICC President and Judge Sang Hyun Song will be visiting the Philippines for the second time and he hopes to meet with the President. Senators Miriam Defensor-Santiago and Loren Legarda, said to be ICC advocates, are expected to move for the Senate to adopt the ratification bill. But the President has to make the first move.

Asia and the Pacific region are underrepresented in the ICC. Only seven Asian states—Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Japan, South Korea, Mongolia and Timor-Leste—are ICC members. The Philippines’ inclusion will strengthen the region’s participation in the ICC and encourage other states in Asia to join the growing global movement for accountability for the most serious crimes and to fight impunity. The Philippines is now the focus of the Universal Ratification Campaign, a monthly worldwide campaign to encourage countries to ratify the Rome Statute.

As an ICC state party, the Philippines can participate in the annual Assembly of States Parties, the ICC’s governing body. During such assemblies states make important decisions in relation to the administration of the court, including the election of judges and prosecutor.

A year from now, six judges, the prosecutor and deputy prosecutor will complete their terms of office and vacate their positions. This, ICC advocates said, will be a good opportunity for the Philippines and other state parties in Asia to nominate candidates to these posts to ensure better representation in this new justice mechanism.

Central to the court’s mandate, the CICC explained, is “the principle of complementarity,” which holds that the court will only intervene if national legal systems are unable or unwilling to investigate and prosecute perpetrators of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes.

There are currently five active investigations before the Court: the Central African Republic; the Democratic Republic of the Congo; Darfur, Sudan; Uganda, and Kenya. The ICC has publicly issued 12 arrest warrants and three summonses. Three trials are ongoing. The Office of the Prosecutor has announced that it is examining at least 10 situations on four continents, including those in Afghanistan, Chad, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Georgia, Guinea, Honduras, South Korea, Nigeria and Palestine.

No to impunity. Yes to the ICC.

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