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Bad omen for Duterte

Just 10 months into Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency, I personally filed the first communication with the International Criminal Court (ICC), in April 2017. At that time, President Duterte had just had a fresh and very popular mandate. But we were undeterred.

In February 2018, just four months before the end of Mr. Duterte’s second year, the ICC launched a preliminary examination into the human rights record of his administration. Even then, his mass appeal remained largely intact.

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Despite his candidates’ Senate sweep in the midterm elections, Mr. Duterte cannot take comfort in that victory. Local politics may be in his favor, but the ICC case is not for politics, but for justice. As shown previously, the ICC will act for the ends of justice, notwithstanding Mr. Duterte’s popularity, which is irrelevant to the issues at hand.

In fact, again despite his popularity, the latest international call for a UN probe into Mr. Duterte’s war on drugs is coming stronger. Eighteen countries have supported a resolution calling for such a probe.

While the resolution calls on the United Nations, especially the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), to do an investigation, there has been, since February 2018, a preliminary examination at the ICC, which is a prelude to a further investigation.

Expectedly, the UNHRC resolution is not aimed at the ICC, presumably because as a court, the ICC is independent and should be free from political pressures. A resolution, if aimed at the ICC, could end up as a weapon for critics to falsely claim that the ICC is a tool of Western powers.

However, it is unrealistic to completely divorce such call from the ongoing ICC preliminary examination. While the call is directed to the United Nations, it indirectly sends a very strong signal to the ICC that a full-blown probe enjoys international backing. Simply put, the resolution’s clear message is: ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda should speed up the process and open an investigation.

This unequivocal signal comes after the ICC also opened an investigation into the situation in Burundi. Just like the Philippines, Burundi withdrew from the ICC after the international body announced a preliminary examination of possible war crimes in that country. The Burundi situation is a legal precedent for the ICC’s action to open a probe even if the country under such probe has exited from the ICC.

This robust signal comes also after the ICC recently announced a preliminary examination into the situation in Myanmar — even if Myanmar is not an ICC member. The Myanmar situation pertains to the forcible mass deportation of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. This cross-border offense that ended up involving Bangladesh, which is an ICC member, gave ICC a material link to exercise its jurisdiction over such a situation. Bensouda has sought authorization from the ICC Pre-Trial Chamber to open this investigation.

These developments do not augur well for “The Punisher,” Mr. Duterte, who is alleged in the information filed at the ICC to be the mastermind of mass murder arising from his system of death squad killings, perpetrated through his Davao Death Squad and brought into, and enlarged, in his war on drugs. An ICC probe against him and his cohorts is coming, and will become a reality sooner than later.

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Jude Josue L. Sabio is a lawyer.

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TAGS: ICC, Iceland resolution, Inquirer Commentary, International Criminal Court, Jude Josue L. Sabio, UN Human Rights Council
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