PH to ICC: 'Respect national processes' in drug war

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, December 8) — The International Criminal Court (ICC) must respect the Philippines' national checks and balances, Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said Thursday.

Addressing the 16th Assembly of States Parties to the Rome Statute of the ICC in New York, Roque said the Philippines had a "sovereign right and responsibility to prosecute crimes committed in our territory."

He added the court has to adhere to a "principle of complementarity" which meant international justice should complement national efforts.

"Ongoing national proceedings in relation to these crimes must therefore be respected," said Roque.

Citing the five-month long Marawi siege, Roque also claimed there was an "intimate and indisputable link" between terrorism and the drug trade.

He added that the 2009 Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity, or Republic Act 9851, preceded its ratification to the ICC in 2011.

The urge to The Hague-based ICC comes about a year after a communication regarding President Rodrigo Duterte's bloody war on drugs was filed at the international court.

It was filed by Jude Josue Sabio, the lawyer of self-confessed hitman Edgar Matobato, who testified about state-sponsored killings in the Senate last year. A supplemental communication was filed by opposition lawmakers Senator Antonio Trillanes and Representative Gary Alejano. It was acknowledged by ICC in April this year.

Malacanang Palace then maintained the communication would not prosper and was meant to "embarrass and shame the President."

"We urge the Court to resist attempts by some sectors to treat the Court as a venue to pursue political agenda to destabilize governments and undermine legitimate national authorities," Roque said on Thursday.

In October last year, ICC Chief Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her office was keeping an eye on the Philippines.

"Let me be clear: any person in the Philippines who incites or engages in acts of mass violence including by ordering, requesting, encouraging or contributing, in any other manner, to the commission of crimes within the jurisdiction of the ICC is potentially liable to prosecution before the Court," Bensouda said.

Human rights watchdogs speak up

Human Rights Watch disputed Roque's claims, slamming the Philippines for "smokescreen justice" in an article on Thursday.

International Justice Program Associate Director Param-Preet Singh noted that despite evidence, no police have been convicted for killings. She also said Duterte "systematically vilified, harassed, and sought to intimidate" institutions who could serve as a check and balance -- likely referring to United Nations Special Rapporteur Agnes Callamard.

"The government's claims of its preparedness to prosecute offenders is grotesquely deceptive in the face of this grim reality," said Singh.

She suggested a UN-led international probe of the drug war, which "could help expose the extent of the abuses and possible targets of a criminal investigation, including possible crimes against humanity."

Amnesty International (AI) on Monday urged the international court to open an examination on Duterte's bloody drug war.

Regional Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific James Gomez said it was time for the court to "step in" as the country's law enforcement and judiciary were "unwilling and unable" to hold killers accountable.

"How many bullet-riddled bodies must be found dumped on the streets before the international community takes action?" said Gomez.

"The ICC must act now. We believe the war on drugs meets the threshold of crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute, and international pressure is needed to persuade the Philippine authorities to change course," he added.

According to police figures, the controversial drug war has seen the deaths of about 4,000 since its launch in July last year. However, human rights watchdogs pin the number of deaths at 13,000, including those killed in vigilante-style executions.